Is the Online Echo Chamber Just a Myth?
Check out this Slate write-up by Farhad Manjoo on sociologist Eytan Bakshy's latest piece of research: a gigantic assessment of whether Facebook does or does not create informational 'echo chambers' within which an individual's personal beliefs and convictions are strengthened rather than objectively challenged.
The idea of such an echo chamber or filter bubble has been around for a few years now, and there is plenty of quantitative sociological research that might seem to support it. However, Bashky's study threatens some of the logic of these claims and instead suggests that Facebook's news feed intelligently mixes shared links from a user's closest friends with links from their weaker ties, who will by and large promote novel and challenging material that is less likely to simply confirm that user's existing opinions (political or otherwise).
I wonder if the sheer size of Bashky's study, which leaves Manjoo gobsmacked, might be a double-edged sword. Is it possible that at a certain, global glance, the frequency of users clicking on novel links rather than ones from their closest friends might reach a kind of healthy average which, in certain countries or at certain points in time may appear to be quite different such as, for example, in the run up to an election? Perhaps Bashky's survey is too far-reaching - there is a reason, beyond practical limitations, why some sociological surveys are kept to a certain size. As this academic article explains, in any study there is always a trade-off between depth and breadth. However, I'm no statistician and admit that I would have to investigate this suggestion in a lot more depth in order to substantiate it.
Either way, Bashky's survey is quite unique in the current climate and very important to take note of, so make sure you do ;)
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