How Do Social Media Feed Algorithms Affect Attitudes and Behavior in an Election Campaign?

To test the effects of algorithmic curation on users' Facebook and Instagram feeds, we conducted a field experiment and measured how changes in users' feeds affected their attitudes and behaviors.

Abstract

We investigated the effects of Facebook’s and Instagram’s feed algorithms during the 2020 US election. We assigned a sample of consenting users to reverse-chronologically-ordered feeds instead of the default algorithms. Moving users out of algorithmic feeds substantially decreased the time they spent on the platforms and their activity. The chronological feed also affected exposure to content: The amount of political and untrustworthy content they saw increased on both platforms, the amount of content classified as uncivil or containing slur words they saw decreased on Facebook, and the amount of content from moderate friends and sources with ideologically mixed audiences they saw increased on Facebook. Despite these substantial changes in users’ on-platform experience, the chronological feed did not significantly alter levels of issue polarization, affective polarization, political knowledge, or other key attitudes during the 3-month study period.