Sign up FAST! Login

Online echo chambers: A study of 250 million Facebook users reveals the Web isn’t as polarized as we thought. - Slate Magazine

Stashed in: User Generated Content, Creativity, The Web, Influence!, Zuck!, Teh Internets, Network Effects, Social Media, @bakadesuyo, History of Tech!, Psychology!, Echo Chambers!

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Does the internet echo chamber really exist?

Thank you for this link -- what an amazing study on the strength of weak ties using Facebook's population as guinea pigs!

That’s exactly what Bakshy found. His paper is heavy on math and network theory, but here’s a short summary of his results. First, he found that the closer you are with a friend on Facebook—the more times you comment on one another’s posts, the more times you appear in photos together, etc.—the greater your likelihood of sharing that person’s links. At first blush, that sounds like a confirmation of the echo chamber: We’re more likely to echo our closest friends.

But here’s Bakshy’s most crucial finding: Although we’re more likely to share information from our close friends, we still share stuff from our weak ties—and the links from those weak ties are the most novel links on the network. Those links from our weak ties, that is, are most likely to point to information that you would not have shared if you hadn’t seen it on Facebook. The links from your close ties, meanwhile, more likely contain information you would have seen elsewhere if a friend hadn’t posted it. These weak ties “are indispensible” to your network, Bakshy says. “They have access to different websites that you’re not necessarily visiting.”

The fact that weak ties introduce us to novel information wouldn’t matter if we only had a few weak ties on Facebook. But it turns out that most of our relationships on Facebook are pretty weak, according to Bakshy’s study. Even if you consider the most lax definition of a “strong tie”—someone from whom you’ve received a single message or comment—most people still have a lot more weak ties than strong ones. And this means that, when considered in aggregate, our weak ties—with their access to novel information—are the most influential people in our networks. Even though we’re more likely to share any one thing posted by a close friend, we have so many more mere acquaintances posting stuff that our close friends are all but drowned out.

In this way, Bakshy’s findings complicate the echo chamber theory. If most of the people we encounter online are weak ties rather than close friends, and if they’re all feeding us links that we wouldn’t have seen elsewhere, this suggests that Facebook (and the Web generally) isn’t simply confirming our view of the world. Social networks—even if they’re dominated by personalization algorithms like EdgeRank—could be breaking you out of your filter bubble rather than reinforcing it.

This still seems hard to believe. I'm going to have to think about this.

There's a thoughtful line at the end: "What’s more, even if social networks aren’t pushing us toward news that confirms our beliefs, there’s still the question of how we interpret that news." That is an excellent point.

There's a lot of data behind the "weak ties" theory, especially in relation to getting a new job. Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha discuss it in "Startup of You" and I did quick post on it here.

Along the same lines, Jonah Lehrer talks about research into how this affects creative teams. People have long debated if it's better to team with friends and sacrifice freshness for the power that comes from familiarity or if new blood is key to breakthroughs despite the big X factor of whether the relationships will actually bear fruit. Turns out the answer lies in the middle, but what's fascinating is the proper ratio is actually quantifiable.

In his book he also discusses how big cities are intensely more creative because of compounded network effects of "weak ties" that get concentrated geographically.

Net-net is that having more weak relationships generates both a lot more noise and a lot more signal.

The challenge remains to differentiate them.

Studies like this are going to be less possible by normal social scientists.

Only the ones who actually work for Facebook will be able to conduct such research.

What a shame.

That really sucks. It would be great if the owners of the these various big data sets could allow academics to use them. Overlapping what FB knows with what Google knows with what Twitter knows... we could learn a LOT about people.

Facebook continues to lose value because of it's sub-par information sharing.

On the other hand, online LIKEs herd others to similar views:

So the information sharing Facebook does have is highly influential.

You May Also Like: