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Use Twitter regularly? You might be in an echo chamber

A new strand of research, based on the activities of Twitter users and the processing of more than 2.7 billion tweets (between 2009 and 2016), concludes that Twitter users are more often exposed to political opinions that agree with their own. The study was the largest of its kind, and it set out to characterize so-called “echo chambers”. The research comes from Aalto University.

In the realm of social media, especially clustered around news media, the phrase “echo chamber” is something analogous to an acoustic echo chamber (where sounds reverberate in a hollow enclosure). Here echo chamber is a metaphor for a place or space where someone’s beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition. By visiting an echo chamber, people either seek or a fed data and information that reinforces their existing views.

The effect of an echo chamber either increases political and social polarization and extremism, or it helps draw someone in to a particular mindset. A further outcome is a tendency to create social communities characterized by cultural tribalism. The extent to which this is a good or a bad thing depends on a individual’s view on the solidarity that comes with shared opinion or the sanctity of open-mindedness.

The presence of echo chambers was assessed by both the content in them and the networks they comprise. The new research indicates there is a strong correlation between biases in the content people both produce and consume. That is, echo chambers are a very real feature of Twitter.

According to lead researcher Dr. Aristides Gionis: “An echo chamber exists if the leaning of the content received by Twitter users is in par with the leaning of the content they share. An opinion echoes back to the user when it is being shared by others in the chamber, the social network around the user.”

The findings, from the analysis of billions of tweets, were assessed by machine learning algorithms. These were used to predict the roles of users in several datasets. The findings will go someway to helping researchers to understand how the social media users – so important to many political election outcomes – perceive the world through their Twitter feed.

The new research has been published on arXiv, and it is headed “Political Discourse on Social Media: Echo Chambers, Gatekeepers, and the Price of Bipartisanship.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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