Synthesis produced by the Fondation Descartes of the following research paper:
Ohme, J. (2020). Algorithmic social media use and its relationship to attitude reinforcement and issue-specific political participation–The case of the 2015 European immigration movements. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 1-18.
The algorithms employed by social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) work in such a way as to present their users with content that is likely to interest and appeal to them – that is, information that is often in line with their pre-established opinions. This selection of information presented to Internet users could thus contribute to reinforcing their worldview. But is this really the case?
This is the question that the authors of this study sought to answer by looking at the evolution of the Danish population’s perception of immigration. In 2015, the migratory flow towards Europe increased. Like other European countries, Denmark subsequently experienced an increase in the number of individuals seeking asylum. The authors of the study measured the change in Danish attitudes towards these individuals during this period. To do so, they surveyed a sample of the Danish population in June 2015, and again in October 2015. Between these two surveys, respondents were asked to inform the researchers about their media consumption.
The aim of this study was twofold: (1) to assess the evolution of Danish people's attitude towards immigration; (2) to determine whether this attitude was influenced by their media consumption, particularly social media.
The results of the study show that, overall, the individuals surveyed held a slightly more negative opinion on immigration in October than in June 2015. Moreover, whether their opinion on immigration was initially positive or negative, individuals who primarily informed themselves via social media during the study period (16% of the sample) reinforced their initial position on this issue.
Interestingly, the study shows that only social media reinforced, in one direction or another, the respondents' initial attitude towards immigration. Other types of media (both offline and online) did not seem to have significantly influenced respondents' opinions on the issue of immigration.
The authors therefore conclude that the personalization algorithms employed by social media platforms effectively contribute to reinforcing individuals’ pre-determined perception of topics such as immigration. However, it should be remembered that other factors, not tested here and yet present on social media, can influence the opinion of individuals on a subject such as this one. The trivialization of hate speech, presented in the previous study, is an example of this.