Filter bubbles are out, echo chambers are in

But in practice, they all continue to suck.

A recent study shows that “Engagement Outweighs Exposure to Partisan and Unreliable News within Google Search”. In plain English, that would mean that the research “highlights the importance of users”' choices [when evaluating the overall] impact of online search and social media platforms" The main findings were:

  • “small but significant differences in exposure to partisan news on Google Search”
  • “significant differences in the amount of partisan news participants' engaged with”
Filter bubbles are out, echo chambers are in /img/eco-chamber-or-filter-bubble.jpg

This indicates “a weak filter bubble effect in the news our participants saw in their Google Search results, and a substantially stronger echo chamber effect in the domains our participants engaged with while browsing the web”.

Or, as observed by G. Tesio on the Nexa mailing list: “engagement (that is, choice by users, not algorithms) with partisan contents is greater than exposure decided by Google search algorithms to the same partisan contents”

As I read it, that study strenghtens the thesis that, in the age of made-to-polarize social media:

  • yes, individual, more or less conscious choices or prejudices make us see only what they wish to see instead of the complete reality, more than what algorithms decide to show us when we explicitly ask them to do it (i.e. when searching something via Google)
  • this makes no big practical difference with social media made to order to only and always show what one likes to see, in order to keep everybody hooked. No matter how you put it, the arrival of social media that are eco chambers made things worse…
  • even more so when considering that, thanks to the same social media and many other pre-existing reasons, a crucial difference between extremist clickbait and quality journalism is that, unlike the latter, clickbait is never paywalled