Academic Research

  • Journal Article

    Replicating the Effects of Facebook Deactivation in an Ethnically Polarized Setting

    Research & Politics, 2023

    View Article View abstract

    The question of how social media usage impacts societal polarization continues to generate great interest among both the research community and broader public. Nevertheless, there are still very few rigorous empirical studies of the causal impact of social media usage on polarization. To explore this question, we replicate the only published study to date that tests the effects of social media cessation on interethnic attitudes (Asimovic et al., 2021). In a study situated in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the authors found that deactivating from Facebook for a week around genocide commemoration in Bosnia and Herzegovina had a negative effect on users’ attitudes toward ethnic outgroups, with the negative effect driven by users with more ethnically homogenous offline networks. Does this finding extend to other settings? In a pre-registered replication study, we implement the same research design in a different ethnically polarized setting: Cyprus. We are not able to replicate the main effect found in Asimovic et al. (2021): in Cyprus, we cannot reject the null hypothesis of no effect. We do, however, find a significant interaction between the heterogeneity of users’ offline networks and the deactivation treatment within our 2021 subsample, consistent with the pattern from Bosnia and Herzegovina. We also find support for recent findings (Allcott et al., 2020; Asimovic et al., 2021) that Facebook deactivation leads to a reduction in anxiety levels and suggestive evidence of a reduction in knowledge of current news, though the latter is again limited to our 2021 subsample.

    Date Posted

    Oct 18, 2023

  • Journal Article

    Like-Minded Sources On Facebook Are Prevalent But Not Polarizing

    • Brendan Nyhan, 
    • Jaime Settle, 
    • Emily Thorson, 
    • Magdalena Wojcieszak
    • Pablo Barberá
    • Annie Y. Chen, 
    • Hunt Alcott, 
    • Taylor Brown, 
    • Adriana Crespo-Tenorio, 
    • Drew Dimmery, 
    • Deen Freelon, 
    • Matthew Gentzkow, 
    • Sandra González-Bailón
    • Andrew M. Guess
    • Edward Kennedy, 
    • Young Mie Kim, 
    • David Lazer, 
    • Neil Malhotra, 
    • Devra Moehler, 
    • Jennifer Pan, 
    • Daniel Robert Thomas, 
    • Rebekah Tromble, 
    • Carlos Velasco Rivera, 
    • Arjun Wilkins, 
    • Beixian Xiong, 
    • Chad Kiewiet De Jong, 
    • Annie Franco, 
    • Winter Mason, 
    • Natalie Jomini Stroud, 
    • Joshua A. Tucker

    Nature, 2023

    View Article View abstract

    Many critics raise concerns about the prevalence of ‘echo chambers’ on social media and their potential role in increasing political polarization. However, the lack of available data and the challenges of conducting large-scale field experiments have made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem1,2. Here we present data from 2020 for the entire population of active adult Facebook users in the USA showing that content from ‘like-minded’ sources constitutes the majority of what people see on the platform, although political information and news represent only a small fraction of these exposures. To evaluate a potential response to concerns about the effects of echo chambers, we conducted a multi-wave field experiment on Facebook among 23,377 users for whom we reduced exposure to content from like-minded sources during the 2020 US presidential election by about one-third. We found that the intervention increased their exposure to content from cross-cutting sources and decreased exposure to uncivil language, but had no measurable effects on eight preregistered attitudinal measures such as affective polarization, ideological extremity, candidate evaluations and belief in false claims. These precisely estimated results suggest that although exposure to content from like-minded sources on social media is common, reducing its prevalence during the 2020 US presidential election did not correspondingly reduce polarization in beliefs or attitudes.

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