Like-minded sources on Facebook are prevalent but not polarizing

Brendan Nyhan, Jaime Settle, Emily Thorson, Magdalena Wojcieszak, Pablo Barberá, Annie Y. Chen, Hunt Allcott, Taylor Brown, Adriana Crespo-Tenorio, Drew Dimmery, Deen Freelon, Matthew Gentzkow, Sandra González-Bailón, Andrew M. Guess, Edward Kennedy, Young Mie Kim, David Lazer, Neil Malhotra, Devra Moehler, Jennifer PanDaniel Robert Thomas, Rebekah Tromble, Carlos Velasco Rivera, Arjun Wilkins, Beixian Xiong, Chad Kiewiet de Jonge, Annie Franco, Winter Mason, Natalie Jomini Stroud, Joshua A. Tucker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations

Abstract

Many critics raise concerns about the prevalence of ‘echo chambers’ on social media and their potential role in increasing political polarization. However, the lack of available data and the challenges of conducting large-scale field experiments have made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem 1,2. Here we present data from 2020 for the entire population of active adult Facebook users in the USA showing that content from ‘like-minded’ sources constitutes the majority of what people see on the platform, although political information and news represent only a small fraction of these exposures. To evaluate a potential response to concerns about the effects of echo chambers, we conducted a multi-wave field experiment on Facebook among 23,377 users for whom we reduced exposure to content from like-minded sources during the 2020 US presidential election by about one-third. We found that the intervention increased their exposure to content from cross-cutting sources and decreased exposure to uncivil language, but had no measurable effects on eight preregistered attitudinal measures such as affective polarization, ideological extremity, candidate evaluations and belief in false claims. These precisely estimated results suggest that although exposure to content from like-minded sources on social media is common, reducing its prevalence during the 2020 US presidential election did not correspondingly reduce polarization in beliefs or attitudes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)137-144
Number of pages8
JournalNature
Volume620
Issue number7972
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 3 2023
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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