“Social Media, News Consumption and Polarization: Evidence from a Field Experiment,” Ro’ee Levy, Yale University
ISPS EXPERIMENTS WORKSHOP
Abstract: Does the rise of social media increase the consumption of news matching the consumer’s ideology and lead to greater polarization? I estimate the effect of social media news exposure on news consumption and political beliefs by conducting a large field experiment that randomly offers participants subscriptions to conservative or liberal news outlets on Facebook. I collect data on the chain of media effects: subscriptions to outlets, news exposure on Facebook, visits to online news sites, sharing of posts, and changes in political beliefs. Three main findings emerge. First, exogenous variation in the social media feed substantially affects online news consumption, suggesting that search costs play an important role in determining the news individual consume. Second, exposure to counter-attitudinal news decreases negative attitudes toward the opposing party (decreases “affective polarization”). Third, the slant of news consumed does not strongly affect political opinions. I decompose the channels increasing exposure to pro-attitudinal news on social media and find evidence that Facebook is less likely to supply posts from counter-attitudinal outlets, conditional on participants subscribing to them (a “ﬁlter bubble”). Together, these results imply that the algorithms governing social media may be limiting exposure to counter-attitudinal news and thus increasing negative attitudes toward the opposing parties.
Ro’ee Levy is an economics Ph.D. candidate at Yale University. His research focuses on issues in political economy and environmental economics. He studies forces shaping individual beliefs, attitudes, and preferences.