The first large-scale empirical analysis of online information-seeking behavior compares the diversity of information found on social media

Indiana University researchers have found that people who search for news and information on social media are at a higher risk of being trapped in a “collective social bubble” compared to using search engines. of research.

The study, “Measuring Social Bubbles Online,” was recently published in the open-access online journal PeerJ Computing. The results are based on an analysis of over 100 million web clicks and 1.3 billion public social media posts.

“These results provide the first large-scale empirical comparison between the diversity of information sources reached by different types of online activities,” said Dimitar Nikolov, a doctoral student in the School of Computing and Computer Science at the IU Bloomington, who is the lead author of the study. “Our analysis shows that people collectively access information from a much narrower range of sources on social media than search engines.”

To measure the diversity of information accessible on each medium, IU researchers developed a method that assigned a score to how users’ clicks on social networks compared to search engines were distributed across millions of sites.

A lower score indicated that users’ web traffic was concentrated on fewer sites; a higher score indicates scattered traffic across multiple sites. A single click on CNN and nine clicks on MSNBC, for example, would generate a score of less than five clicks on each site.

Overall, the analysis found that people who accessed news on social media scored significantly lower on the diversity of their news sources than users who accessed current news using search engines. of research.

The findings show the rise of a “collective social bubble” where information is shared within communities of like-minded individuals, Nikolov said, noting a trend in modern media consumption where “the discovery of information is transformed from an individual to a social enterprise”. .”

He added that people who engage in this behavior as a coping mechanism for “information overload” may not even know that they are filtering their access to information using social media platforms, such as Facebook, where the majority of stories come from friends. assignments.

“The rapid adoption of the web as a source of knowledge and a social space has made it increasingly difficult for people to manage the constant stream of news and information arriving on their screens,” added the co-author of the study, Filippo Menczer, professor of computer science. and computer science, director of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research, or CNetS, and fellow of the IU Network Science Institute. “These findings suggest that the amalgamation of these previously separate activities may be contributing to a growing ‘bubble effect’ in information consumption.”

To conduct the study, IU scientists applied their analysis to three massive sources of information about browsing habits. It was an anonymous database compiled by CNetS containing the web searches of 100,000 UI users between October 2006 and May 2010; a dataset containing 18 million clicks by more than half a million AOL search engine users in 2006; and 1.3 billion public posts containing links shared by more than 89 million people on Twitter between April 2013 and April 2014. The UI dataset was the primary source for the study.

The other datasets, which contained identifiers, allowed the scientists to confirm that information access behavior at the community level mirrored the behavior of individual users.

Additionally, to measure the range of news sources consulted by users, IU scientists used an open directory of news sites, filtering blogs and wikis, which yielded 3,500 news bodies. information.

“Compared to a baseline of information-seeking activities, this evidence shows, empirically, that social media does in fact expose communities and individuals to a much narrower range of information sources, despite the many support information channels,” Nikolov said.

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Materials provided by Indiana University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.