Do echo chambers really exist online? To answer this, we examine how Twitter users engage with a mix of political networks during the 2013 German and Italian elections. We find that echo chambers are not a universal experience of online political participation.
Vaccari, Cristian, Augusto Valeriani, Pablo Barberá, John T. Jost, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker. “Of Echo Chambers and Contrarian Clubs: Exposure to Political Disagreement among German and Italian Users of Twitter.” Social Media and Society 2, no. 3 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305116664221
Jul 01, 2016
Area of Study
Scholars have debated whether social media platforms, by allowing users to select the information to which they are exposed, may lead people to isolate themselves from viewpoints with which they disagree, thereby serving as political “echo chambers.” We investigate hypotheses concerning the circumstances under which Twitter users who communicate about elections would engage with (a) supportive, (b) oppositional, and (c) mixed political networks. Based on online surveys of representative samples of Italian and German individuals who posted at least one Twitter message about elections in 2013, we find substantial differences in the extent to which social media facilitates exposure to similar versus dissimilar political views. Our results suggest that exposure to supportive, oppositional, or mixed political networks on social media can be explained by broader patterns of political conversation (i.e., structure of offline networks) and specific habits in the political use of social media (i.e., the intensity of political discussion). These findings suggest that disagreement persists on social media even when ideological homophily is the modal outcome, and that scholars should pay more attention to specific situational and dispositional factors when evaluating the implications of social media for political communication.
Scholars have debated whether social media platforms serve as political “echo chambers” that allow users to select the information that they are exposed to — ultimately, isolating users from viewpoints with which they disagree. But to what extent are echo chambers a feature of social media?
To answer this, we examine how Twitter users engage with supportive, oppositional, and mixed political networks when communicating about the general elections of 2013 in Germany and Italy. First, we investigate the role of social media in exposing individuals to different viewpoints on the basis of unique representative online surveys of Twitter users who posted campaign-related messages.
Our results suggest that exposure to supportive, oppositional, or mixed political networks on social media can be explained by broader patterns of political conversation and specific habits in the political use of social media. Taken together, our findings suggest that political homophily on social media is not a universal outcome to all users' experience. On the contrary, it is a condition that citizens experience with different degrees of intensity depending on their broader patterns of political conversation and their specific habits in the political use of social media. Individuals experiencing homophily in their offline discussion networks, and those who are more engaged in the exchange of political messages on social media, are more likely than others to encounter echo chambers on these platforms.