Social media increases news consumption, may not be reinforcing personal opinions: Study

Berlin, Feb 9 (PTI) Social media platforms and search engines have encouraged greater and more diverse news consumption, according to a study which challenges the concept of echo chambers on the internet where users encounter only information reinforcing their own beliefs.

The study, published in the journal PNAS, analysed the web browsing behaviour of more than 5,000 German internet users, and found that the use of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or search engines like Google leads to more visits to diverse news sites.

'Anyone visiting Facebook or Google is much more likely to come into contact with news items. Therefore the use of these intermediaries is an important mechanism in the consumption of news on the Internet,' said study co-author Frank Mangold of the University of Hohenheim in Germany.

According to the researchers, this may be due to incidental exposure to news.

In the case of traditional media such as television and newspapers, they said, people often only see the news if they deliberately choose to do so.

On intermediary platforms like Facebook or Twitter, users can also come into contact with news by chance, the study noted.

In these platforms, the scientists said, people's contacts share news content with them, or they happen upon interesting articles when checking their emails.

'Previous debates have, in many respects, revolved around the fear that online media would lead to new social barriers,' said Michael Scharkow, co-author of the study from Mainz University in Germany.

'However, our findings show that social media and search engines in fact have great potential to break down existing barriers,' Scharkow said.

While access to news often happens partly by chance in these platforms, it may also be down to conscious choice, the researchers noted.

'Regardless of whether a user usually consumed a little or a lot of online news, on days on which someone spent more time on Facebook, Twitter, or Google than usual, they also came into contact with more news as well as more news from different sources than usual,' said Sebastian Stier another co-author of the study.

However, the scientists cautioned that further studies, and more detailed insights into the algorithms of intermediary platforms are necessary to understand more precisely how these promote unintended, incidental news consumption. PTI VIS VIS VIS