Partisan Sharing: Facebook Evidence and Societal Consequences


The hypothesis of selective exposure assumes that people seek out information that supports their views and eschew information that conflicts with their beliefs, and that has negative consequences on our society. Few researchers have recently found counter evidence of selective exposure in social media: users are exposed to politically diverse articles. No work has looked at what happens after exposure, particularly how individuals react to such exposure, though. Users might well be exposed to diverse articles but share only the partisan ones. To test this, we study partisan sharing on Facebook: the tendency for users to predominantly share like-minded news articles and avoid conflicting ones. We verified four main hypotheses. That is, whether partisan sharing: 1) exists at all; 2) changes across individuals (e.g., depending on their interest in politics); 3) changes over time (e.g., around elections); and 4) changes depending on perceived importance of topics. We indeed find strong evidence for partisan sharing. To test whether it has any consequence in the real world, we built a web application for BBC viewers of a popular political program, resulting in a controlled experiment involving more than 70 individuals. Based on what they share and on survey data, we find that partisan sharing has negative consequences: distorted perception of reality. However, we do also find positive aspects of partisan sharing: it is associated with people who are more knowledgeable about politics and engage more with it as they are more likely to vote in the general elections.

Proceedings of the Second ACM Conference on Online Social Networks (COSN)