A new study focusing on Facebook users provides strong evidence that the explanation is confirmation bias: people’s tendency to seek out information that confirms their beliefs, and to ignore contrary information.
Confirmation bias turns out to play a pivotal role in the creation of online echo chambers. This finding bears on a wide range of issues, including the current presidential campaign, the acceptance of conspiracy theories and competing positions in international disputes.
The new study, led by Michela Del Vicario of Italy’s Laboratory of Computational Social Science, explores the behavior of Facebook users from 2010 to 2014. One of the study’s goals was to test a question that continues to be sharply disputed: When people are online, do they encounter opposing views, or do they create the virtual equivalent of gated communities?
Del Vicario and her coauthors explored how Facebook users spread conspiracy theories (using 32 public web pages); science news (using 35 such pages); and “trolls,” which intentionally spread false information (using two web pages). Their data set is massive: It covers all Facebook posts during the five-year period. They explored which Facebook users linked to one or more of the 69 web pages, and whether they learned about those links from their Facebook friends.
In sum, the researchers find a lot of communities of like-minded people. Even if they are baseless, conspiracy theories spread rapidly within such communities.
More generally, Facebook users tended to choose and share stories containing messages they accept, and to neglect those they reject. If a story fits with what people already believe, they are far more likely to be interested in it and thus to spread it….(More)”