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Study shows Facebook and Twitter are echo chambers but Reddit and Gab are not

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Well – who knew – a more decentralized social platform that doesn’t use algorithms to control user perspectives would be far less likely to lend itself to creating and nurturing user “echo chambers” than a centralized one – where the latter is controlled by any number of “editorializing” and algorithmic ways to promote certain content and user biases, while suppressing others and what would have otherwise provided for a naturally-arising diversity of opinion.

The effects centralized platforms like Facebook and Twitter produce is to lock people into “echo chambers” as they are presented mostly with content that confirms their existing biases. That may feel good in the moment. But it produces nothing good for them in the long term, leaving users unable to understand the world they’re living in.

(Twitter doesn’t reflect reality, kids.)

In any case: banding together with like-minded people is in itself neither a problem nor anything new – it’s just human nature. The problem in this day and age, however, arises when some of the most influential global social networks having largely usurped direct human interaction in many cultures, while taking it upon themselves to artificially cultivate these “echo chambers” to reflect their own “image” – that is, their political, or ideological allegiances.

A grave result of this might result in corralling online users unaware of how the “system” works into “communities” with which they share some, but not all their values. The problem, in other words, is undue interference.

(Why platforms/publishers did it in the first may not have been any kind of nefarious, at least not until the last couple or so years of the social media metamorphosis. The original goal was probably just a form of “gamification” to keep users locked into a particular social network.)

But even it all of that is by now obvious – that’s not to say it’s a bad idea to, from time to time, articulate these facts in a systematic and scientific way, like an academic study – and that’s exactly what a number of researchers from across Italy have now done:

“We infer the leaning of users about controversial topics – ranging from vaccines to abortion – and reconstruct their interaction networks by analyzing different features, such as shared links domain, followed pages, follower relationship and commented posts. Our method quantifies the existence of echo-chambers along two main dimensions: homophily in the interaction networks and bias in the information diffusion toward likely-minded peers. We find peculiar differences across social media. Indeed, while Facebook and Twitter present clear-cut echo chambers in all the observed dataset, Reddit and Gab do not.”

Interesting results – but not all that surprising.

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