Facebook study finds people only click on links that they agree with, site is an 'echo chamber'

Though people tend to have a diverse range of friends, Facebook’s algorithm means that they mostly see those who share their views, research has found

Andrew Griffin
Friday 08 May 2015 14:50
Comments
Facebook lights up the London Eye with the nation's general election conversations. The colours represent discussions of their parties on the social network
Facebook lights up the London Eye with the nation's general election conversations. The colours represent discussions of their parties on the social network

Facebook users tend almost entirely to click on links that they agree with, meaning that their news feeds can become an echo chamber, according to new research.

Most users of the site have friends with a broad range of political views. But they tend only to click on posts by those friends that they agree with politically, according to new research published in Science, and so the News Feed tends to show them the same kind of content.

Researchers call that self-sustaining effect the “filter bubble”. As technology companies learn more about their users, they show them the kind of results that they have clicked on in the past — which has the effect of showing people things that they already agreed with and wanted to see.

The new study was conducted by Facebook’s in-house scientists, and aimed to establish whether the site’s algorithm was creating a filter bubble, and whether that led to political polarisation. Facebook’s algorithm decides what users see on their news feed based on a range of criteria, including how often a link has been clicked by other users and whether it is the kind of thing that users have engaged with in the past.

To establish whether people tended to engage with people they disagreed with, Facebook researchers mapped out the site’s users according to which parties they’d indicated that they support. Over 10 million Facebook users were unknowingly mapped on a five point scale according to whether they were Conservative or Liberal.

The site then analysed news content to decide whether the organisation posting it tended to be conservative or liberal. Researchers calculated that by looking at the affiliations of the people who liked them — ranking the New York Times as slightly liberal but Fox News as slightly conservative, for instance.

Researchers then analysed when stories were “cross-cutting” — stories from conservative sources that were seen by liberal Facebook users, or vice versa. By analysing the two sets of data together, researchers could work out how often people see stories that they weren’t expected to agree with.

The Facebook news feed does tend to work as an echo chamber, the researchers found. Users were about 1 per cent less likely to see stories that they didn’t agree with, they said — less of a bias than some critics of the News Feed had suggested, but still enough to be significant.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in