Heavy social media use leads to a wider variety of news sources

Most people don't look at any news, or at one news site; using social media a lot (even without the intention of looking for news) means that sometimes you'll end up clicking a news link — so heavy social media users, on average, are consuming a wider media diet than those who do not use social media.

It's still possible to construct a perfect filter bubble for yourself using the internet, and that's easier than the pre-internet era, when fringe participants had to seek out and subscribe to postally sourced printed newsletters. But once you take to the forums and walls to argue about your filtered beliefs, you are still more likely to be exposed to sources that don't share your tenets.

For example, about once a month I find myself accidentally clicking on a link to a Daily Mail story — whereas during 13 years in the UK, I never once read a story in the Mail's print edition.

The original research from Nieman Lab is very good, and points out that our split isn't so much about where we get our news as how we figure out whether to trust it.

As I've written before, we're in the midst of an ontological crisis: we've lost the fragile consensus about how we know things are true. Statements from the President, from panels of independent scientists and from peer-reviewed journals no longer carry the ring of truth for large swathes of people whose old rule of thumb was to trust those sources.

So the question of whether we're reading diverse news-sources isn't as important as whether we have broad convergence on how to know whether to trust those sources.

Two things are immediately striking. First, the majority in most countries and in most groups do not use sources from across the political spectrum. But also, second, that both social media news users and those incidentally exposed to news on social media not only (a) consume news from more sources but also (b) have a more politically diverse online news diet than those who do not use social media at all. In the U.S., just 20 percent of those who do not use social media consume news from online brands with left-leaning and right-leaning audiences. Few people, when left to their own devices, opt for a politically diverse news diet. However, the figure rises to 37 percent for those incidentally exposed to news on social media, as they see news links posted by people with different views and different patterns of news consumption. 44 percent of those who use social media for news end up using sources from both the left and the right — more than double the number for non-users. We see the same pattern in both Germany and the U.K. Again, these differences remain significant after we control for other factors.

We have focused here on whether social media use leads to narrow filter bubbles or whether algorithmic filtering in its current forms drives greater diversity through distributed discovery. We have shown that social media use is consistently associated with more, and more diverse, news diets, and that the difference is clear even for the incidentally exposed, those who use social media for other purposes and come across news while doing so. Preliminary analysis of other forms of algorithmic filtering like search engines and news aggregators indicate similar results.

Using social media appears to diversify your news diet, not narrow it
[Richard Fletcher and Rasmus Kleis Nielsen/Nieman Lab]

(via Memex 1.1)