Media Bubbles and Fake News

There was a fascinating piece on NPR’s Morning Edition Tuesday morning, about an analysis of news media sites shared on Facebook and Twitter during the election campaign, aligned by allegiance to Trump or Clinton. The researchers stressed how neutral they strove to be; nevertheless, they had to conclude that visitors to right-wing sites (dominated by Breitbart) were more apt to visit only other right-wing sites, while visitors to left-wing sites (like Huffington Post) more often also visited more-or-less centrist sites like The Hill. (With CNN, NYT, and WaPo being designated slightly left.) Here’s a link to the radio piece, followed by a link to the actual analysis, with the bubble maps showing inter-relatedness and size of various shared sites.

NPR: Researchers Examine Breitbart’s Influence On Election Information

Columbia Journalism Review: Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda

Here’s part of the interview, between researcher YOCHAI BENKLER and interviewer Steven Inskeep.

Benkler: There is substantial difference between the left and the right. I think–professional journalists, academics–we’re all trying to make sure we’re neutral, by trying to find similar patterns on left and right. But what we saw was quite substantial difference, and the difference has to do with who you attend to.

Inskeep: He says visitors to partisan sites on the left also commonly shared lots of traditional media stories with a more balanced view of events. Visitors to sites on the right tended to stay on the right; they were less likely to share traditional media, which many distrust. People who did check traditional media nevertheless found many stories favored by the right. Mainstream media coverage of Hillary Clinton as shared on social media tended to focus on her emails, or the Clinton Foundation. …

Key point of interest: this is evidence that the right is focused on its own narrative, and is thus susceptible to ‘fake news’, more so than the left. Why would this be?

Perhaps because, virtually by definition, conservatives (the right) are committed to maintaining established, traditional, social and political orders. Yet the world is changing, more and more every decade, as the population expands, previously isolated groups come into contact, if only by virtue of the expanding global population, and the ease of travel outside one’s own community increases.

For those committed to stability and tradition, this reality is increasingly hard to take, and so the narratives they cling to increasingly become ‘fake’ relative to objective reality.

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