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Production vs. Consumption of information on Twitter

23/06/2020

Synthesis produced by the Fondation Descartes of the following research paper:

Mukerjee, S., Jaidka, K., & Lelkes, Y. (2020). The Ideological Landscape of Twitter: Comparing the Production versus Consumption of Information on the Platform.

This article reconsiders two highly debated issues concerning the social network Twitter: the formation of echo chambers 1, on the one hand, and the ideological fragmentation of this social network, on the other. The authors of this article argue that these two harmful phenomena are not necessarily linked to the use of Twitter. Indeed, they consider that previous studies that have demonstrated the presence of echo chambers and strong ideological fragmentation on Twitter have largely focused their analysis on small groups of users, often interested in politics — groups that do not reflect the true diversity of Twitter users. Moreover, according to the authors, most existing studies have focused on the content of political tweets, without paying sufficient attention to the actual importance of political content on Twitter as a whole.

Based on these observations, the authors establish the following two main objectives: 

  • To gain a better understanding of the nature of the content that primarily circulates on Twitter in the United States. To do this, the authors analyzed the content of tweets published by opinion leaders within a randomly selected group of users (the term "opinion leaders" refers here to accounts that have significantly more followers than the average user).
  • To estimate the degree of "ideological diversity" to which each account in the randomly selected group of users is exposed.

The authors observe that only 10% of the opinion leaders in their sample group are politicians, whereas 44% of them are from the world of entertainment. Moreover, most tweets are published by non-partisan accounts. It is therefore difficult to talk about the polarization of Twitter as a whole, since only a small proportion of users have an ideological stance. Lastly, the majority of users do not consume content that is ideologically homogenous. On the other hand, there exists a group of users and opinion leaders who are highly interconnected and closed off from the outside world. This group, which constitutes an echo chamber, is that of American conservatives.

The authors conclude that analyzing the ways in which ordinary Americans follow opinion leaders on Twitter does not support the widespread notion that users of this social network systematically lock themselves into echo chambers, nor that Twitter contributes to ideological fragmentation and the polarization of opinions.

  1. An echo chamber refers to a virtual space in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced through communication and repetition. Echo chambers are mainly used to designate spaces on the Internet (forums, threads, social networks, Facebook pages, etc.) where users exchange profusely on the same subject. For more information, we recommend this article composed by the Fondation Descartes devoted to echo chambers.[]
Topic :  Social Media  
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Edition :  OSF Preprints  
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Country :  United-States 
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Language  :  English 
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