Old News from Close Friends, New News from Casual Acquaintances: Social Media and Echo Chambers Revisited

Conference: The European Conference on Media, Communication & Film (EuroMedia2020)
Title: Old News from Close Friends, New News from Casual Acquaintances: Social Media and Echo Chambers Revisited
Stream: Social Media and Communication Technology
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Authors:
Andrew Duffy, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Abstract:

A common criticism of the interface between news and social media is that of the echo chamber (Sunstein, 2001) which suggests that in order to avoid information overload or cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957), people limit their news diet to stories and topics that conform to their pre-existing views. Over time, this limits awareness that other divergent views exist at all, and polarises society. Yet weighed against this are studies which suggest that social media – particularly Facebook – offers both strong ties to close friends, and weak ties to more distant contacts (Granovetter, 1973), which may bring alternative viewpoints to a social media news feed. Echo chambers may therefore not be such a threat as was foreseen (Haim, Graefe & Brosius, 2018) and studies have shown that social media actually expose people to more heterogeneous than homogenous opinions (e.g. Fletcher & Nielsen, 2017; Flaxman, Goel & Rao, 2016). Complicating this picture, however, news on social media is now complemented by news on direct messaging apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat, where strong and weak ties may present distinctive sharing behaviour. Based on focus group discussions with 50 people who routinely share and receive news on social media and on direct messaging apps, we examine the extent to which each brings a diverse or a homogenous feed of news. Further, we question whether people actively seek out differing viewpoints as one of the benefits of social media or direct messenger news feeds.