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Using Facebook Actually Reduces Ethnic Tension, New Study Finds

People fret about online echo chambers, but offline echo chambers can be just as strong—or stronger.

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Facebook is frequently accused of exacerbating various negative social phenomena: hate speech, conspiracy theories, and even ethnic tensions. In Myanmar, for instance, social media accounts associated with the government's military have stoked considerable violence against the Rohingya, the country's Muslim minority population.

But a new study suggests there are situations where Facebook actually serves to lessen the odds of ethnic violence. This matters, because the overwhelming tendency within traditional media is to universally pan social media as a significant cause of social strife.

The situation is much more complicated, according to study recently published by the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers conducted the study in Bosnia and Herzegovina in July 2019, during a week of public remembrance for the genocide of Bosniak Muslims that occurred there in the early 1990s. Bosniak, Serbian (who are Slavic and largely Eastern Orthodox), and Croatian (who are Slavic and largely Roman Catholic) participants agreed not to use Facebook, which accounts for roughly 99 percent of the social media market in the country. Researchers ensured compliance by checking their accounts for activity. After the week was over, researchers surveyed participants about their attitudes toward other ethnic groups and compared their answers with a control group that had remained active on Facebook during the remembrance period.

They were surprised by the results: The offline group had a greater dislike of other ethnicities than the group that remained online. Again, the previous assumption made by many critics of social media is that Facebook creates echo chambers for likeminded people that intensify their own beliefs and prejudices, leading to greater tension.

"Vulnerability to echo chambers may be greatest in offline social networks," wrote the study's authors. "We have lost sight of the fact that offline social networks are oftentimes even more homogeneous than the online networks."

The results were most pronounced for participants who lived in ethnically homogeneous communities: Facebook was essentially the only place that these people were likely to encounter someone who belonged to a different ethnicity.

"It is important to note that our results are aligned with two possibilities: that those who stayed active on Facebook experienced an improvement of outgroup attitudes because of their online contact and discussions engendered by the remembrance period or, alternatively, that those who deactivated their Facebook accounts experienced worsening of their outgroup attitudes because they were primarily exposed to discussions within homogeneous offline networks or the official discourse," wrote the authors.

These findings will likely come as a shock to people who are casually familiar with the popular notion that social media has strong siloing effects. But every time the matter is researched, the results cast some doubt on the entire notion.

"People's habits do incline somewhat toward their preferred political positions, but a study of Web browser, survey, and consumer data from 2004 to 2009 found that people's media diets online were modestly divided by ideology but far more diverse than, for instance, the networks of people with whom they talked about politics in person," wrote Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth College, in a review of the data for The Washington Post. "This finding of limited information polarization has been repeatedly replicated. Most recently, a new study found that mobile news consumption is even less segregated by ideology than desktop/laptop data used in previous research."

Many people want to believe that social media, and Facebook in particular, makes everyone more racist, politically paranoid, addicted, and anxious. It's a narrative that's equally popular with very conservative Republicans (who somewhat bafflingly view Facebook as an enemy), progressive Democrats (who are ideologically predisposed to dislike large corporations), and the mainstream media (which views social media as a rival). But there is solid evidence undermining many of these claims, and it's important to remember that taking away technology and shutting off conversations—even fraught and divisive conversations—often increases ignorance and prejudice.

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  1. “Many people want to believe that social media, and Facebook in particular, makes everyone more racist, politically paranoid, addicted, and anxious.”

    Welcome to “confirmation bias”!

    What lies do YOU want to hear today? Your server today will be Sidney Powell!

    https://reason.com/2021/03/23/sidney-powell-says-shes-not-guilty-of-defamation-because-no-reasonable-person-would-have-believed-her-outlandish-election-conspiracy-theory/
    Sidney Powell Says She’s Not Guilty of Defamation Because ‘No Reasonable Person’ Would Have Believed Her ‘Outlandish’ Election Conspiracy Theory

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  2. A study from 2004-2009 (when FB wasn’t the menacing company it is today) and another from Bosnia. Good stuff. Americans for prosperity would be proud.

    1. I was exceptionally amused at how, 99.999% of the time the white race is a monolith of supremacist oppressors until it comes time to show that Facebook doesn’t exacerbate racist ideology. Then, ignore the rise of CRT, race riots across the country, and multiple high-profile staged hate crimes and focus on a week of examination of the distinctions between Serbs and Croats in the 90s.

      1. Both of them are trash. Nothing but thugs and gangsters.

  3. We are too busy hating each other based on our star belly status to care about skin tone.

  4. >>But a new study suggests there are situations where Facebook actually serves to lessen the odds of ethnic violence.

    ethnic violence in which directions?

    1. The direction is nearly ALWAYS, my tribe good, your tribe bad! My tribe’s violence GOOD, your tribe’s violence BAD!

      (Those who contradict this idea publicly and loudly, risk being killed for their troubles. Don’t you go making me look bad, by being a better person than I am! This is why Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., etc., got themselves killed! See http://www.churchofsqrls.com/Do_Gooders_Bad/ for details.)

  5. They were surprised by the results: The offline group had a greater dislike of other ethnicities than the group that remained online. Again, the previous assumption made by many critics of social media is that Facebook creates echo chambers for likeminded people that intensify their own beliefs and prejudices, leading to greater tension.

    I have NO opinion on the intent of this study, but the mechanics of this study just seem deeply flawed to me.

    1. I especially like how the focus is on ethnicity when online echo chambers largely form around ideas instead of location.

      Physical location is harder to change, so people who are not online may be more prejudiced by ethnic background, but they tend to be more tolerant of the different viewpoints of the people they interact with daily, and sometimes complete projects with those people.

      As if ethnicity is the most important thing to be tolerant of.

    2. Seeing the results of this kind of puts Facebooks ban frenzy into perspective. Almost as if increasing racial animosity was the point and anything that reduced that needed to be purged. Can’t have a revolution if nobody has grievances worth revolting over.

  6. Mmmm, so science-y!

    1. Psychology, sociology, and astrology are related sciences – the data can not be reproduced about 40% of the time. – https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2015.18248
      unlike the sort of science journalists almost never report on, like chemistry and physics. Only someone with a degree in something like journalism or political science could not tell the difference.

      1. Home Run! And look who controls content management at Big Tech..Ivy League NYC liberal art majors with far left beliefs..and at Reason? Most of the writers and editors live in cosmo woke land (NYC or DC) and yes…have liberal art degrees and dream job is working for Salon or the NYT…

        Seriously if you don’t have an hard science or engineering degree or background (don’t need a degree) you need to just stop writing about “science”…JC what a joke

  7. When only one side of the racial tension problem is allowed to express their feelings there is no way to gauge if are higher or lower since it measures only one side. So yes the racial tensions may be higher on that side since it has been at fever pitch for a long time and has not increased. But the other side there is no data to gauge it.

  8. It’s because the Internet works, just as it’s supposed to, exposing people to a variety of facts and viewpoints they’d see less of otherwise.

    1. This is what television was supposed to too, but didn’t really.

  9. I can’t speak for Facebook, since I’m not in the belly of that beast, but Xtube, Xvideos, PornHub, OnlyFans, Tinder, Grindr, Kik, and many more all relieve ethnic and sexual tension. 😉

  10. One study using a very complex situation and there you go Facebook helps with civil discourse. I personally found that to not be the case. I left FB as being a libertarian and pointing out the fallacies of the left and media lying (NYT in particular) ensured I was rained down with total woke nuts..pretty much all my friends have left FB as well…you are threatened with your job and your life when you question the “Cathedral” of liberalism. And your posts get removed…don’t know why Reason has such a hard on for Big Tech..they are just an extension of the Bolshevik media overlords…they are relatives, friends, sleep with them..same cast of characters..you can throw Wall Street in with them as well..all far lefties with “old world” issues

    1. I will point out one situation where Facebook is helpful. Your extended family can talk you down from extremes.

      I have many cousins, some that I haven’t seen in decades but I talk to on Facebook. Some were getting radicalized on both sides of the aisle. I successfully talked one into admitting that race relations weren’t worse than anytime in US history, and other that Obama wasn’t going to seize power permanently.

      The advantage of Facebook over other social media is the presence of so much family. Grandma can talk sense into some people, and Crazy Cousin Tom isn’t going to just shut you out since you’ve talked sense ever since childhood.

      The only thing I ever found close was the Houston Chronicle years ago, back before they sabotaged the comments. Since everyone was drawn there by being local instead of ideology, you actually got a decent cross-section of the city and people would talk somewhat civilly.

      1. The families of too many will talk you into extremes, so Facebook is definitely not helpful there.

  11. Oh, a study by experts? Then the science is settled. Reason sure loves them some Big Tech (money).

  12. What tension? I don’t see any.

  13. So Facebook is donating to the Reason foundation. To be sure.

    1. So R Mac is donating to the Fund for Assisting Homeless Rabbits… “Pure charity”, R Mac says. Little does R Mac know, R Mac is supposed to “back out” of his charity donations, the “rational benefits” that R Mac gets in turn, in exchange for any (significant) rational benefits kicked back to R Mac, in exchange. If R Mac claims charity write-offs in the first place…

      R Mac might get lucky, and NOT have the IRS notice that R Mac gets “smart pills kickbacks” when the rabbit kick backwards on their, um, small round posterior-emitted by-products, if ya know what I mean!

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