On Hacker News I found an interesting paper researching the polarizing effects of social media. Including here for your convenience, the abstract:
Does the consumption of ideologically congruent news on social media exacerbate polarization? I estimate the effects of social media news exposure by conducting a large field experiment randomly offering participants subscriptions to conservative or liberal news outlets on Facebook. I collect data on the causal chain of media effects: subscriptions to outlets, exposure to news on Facebook, visits to online news sites, and sharing of posts, as well as changes in political opinions and attitudes. Four main findings emerge. First, random variation in exposure to news on social media substantially affects the slant of news sites individuals visit. Second, exposure to counter-attitudinal news decreases negative attitudes toward the opposing political party. Third, in contrast to the effect on attitudes, I find no evidence that the political leanings of news outlets affect political opinions. Fourth, Facebook’s algorithm is less likely to supply individuals with posts from counter-attitudinal outlets, conditional on individuals subscribing to them. Together, the results suggest that social media algorithms may limit exposure to counter-attitudinal news and thus increase polarization.
On HN (see the comment thread to this paper) someone posted an interesting observation (highlight mine):
smoldesu writes: This is pretty interesting, but I’ve always thought that the sensationalist side of social media exacerbates this issue. Everyone is driven by clicks, so writing with a sense of urgency (not necessarily extremism) will drive your interaction up. It’s part of what makes social media so exhausting these days: a billion users are all jockeying for your attention, and you need to trust that Facebook/Twitter/Reddit/$OTHER_SITE will direct your focus to the things that matter. And when everything “matters”, nothing does. We’ve become desensitized to importance, and I imagine it will have a considerable impact on the future of journalism and how we interact with it.