Bubble Mentality

Political polarization online


Afraid you're living in a social media bubble? Don't panic. According to a January paper by Eytan Bakshy, a researcher for the social networking site Facebook, "online social networks actually increase the spread of novel information and diverse viewpoints" about politics. 

Bakshy and co-authors from Facebook and the University of Michigan drew on Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter's work on strong and weak ties. Friends and family who interact frequently with each other have strong ties, while more casual, sporadic acquaintances are weak. 

On Facebook the number of comments between two people indicates how strong their ties are. Predictably, a cluster of strong ties resembles an echo chamber, since people with similar interests and views are apt to share similar news links. People with weak ties, however, are more likely to hold different views and post different links. Since most "friends" on Facebook represent weak ties, these acquaintances cross-pollinate "novel information" from one cluster to another. Bakshy's research included more than 253 million users, 75 million URLs, and almost 1.2 billion links posted by users.