Facebook is at the center of two newly released studies about the access to differing opinions and users’ political engagement.
In the first–a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Science–data scientists at Facebook say that the “echo chamber” is not as present as some have speculated. The echo chamber is a concept suggesting that your friends on the site have the same views as you do, suggesting the algorithm that puts posts into your feed would therefore only populate it with news items and shares you’d personally like.
The study has flaws, according to the New York Times. While independent researchers said the study was important for its scope and size, they noted several significant limitations.
One mentioned by the newspaper is that it analyzed the behavior of 10.1 million American users who identified their partisan preference in their profile over a six-month period–leaving out those who chose not to affiliate with a particular political party.
With that data in mind, about 23% of users’ friends are of an opposing political affiliation, and an average of almost 29% of the news stories displayed by Facebook’s News Feed are presented with views that conflict with the user’s own ideology, according to the Times analysis, demonstrating that some “outside thought” did creep into sight for users.
Another set of research from GfK found how millennials were most likely to be politically engaged online. According to its study, discussed on eMarketer, 36% of respondents had signed an online petition–the top politically engaged activity–followed by three that utilized Facebook: “liking” a political issue (30%) or a candidate (24%), and advocating for a political position on Facebook (19%). Twitter didn’t rank until position No. 5, where 16% of respondents said they had advocated for a position using the microblogging site.
Outside of millennials, Facebook was the medium of choice among political Web users, with 71% of those surveyed touting it as their primary social channel to share content about last year’s midterm elections. Twitter, No. 2 on the list, had 15% of respondents say the same. Some 36% said watching online ads about political topics affected their votes, with the study suggesting Facebook could see an influx of political ads, as social media has already been thought of as a great place to campaign, and used in several of the last presidential and midterm elections.