Algorithms, social networks, and online search tools generally produce curated content for a user based on their interests and beliefs, which includes curated news content. New research published in Science Advances found indeed that partisan segregation happens in news audiences, and is more prominent in TV news audiences than online news audiences.
“As these curation systems rely in part on homophily (i.e., relative similarity of friends versus strangers), affinity (e.g., political partisanship), and demonstrated personal preference (e.g., previously viewed content), scholars have speculated that Americans’ news diets will, as a consequence, become less diverse, more segregated, and less likely to challenge existing opinions or to provide new perspectives,” explain study author Daniel Muise and colleagues.
The consequences of these systems have been referred to as “echo chambers” (i.e., online environments that exclude disagreeing opinions) and “filter bubbles” (i.e., consequences of algorithm-based recommendations). Altogether, these systems may lead partisan segregation within users of these systems.
The researchers sought to add to the research on the partisan audience segregation in online environments by expanding to TV news audiences. To do this, they used data from two multi-year nationally representative Nielsen survey panels of American adults between 2016 and 2019. Participants in one panel had their media habits tracked for several months and participants in the other panel had their Web browsing news media habits tracked. Partisan labels were created for news websites and TV news programs based on previous research.
Results show that partisan audience segregation influences more American viewers via TV news consumption compared to online news consumption. In other words, more TV news viewers consumed only partisan-consistent news programs whereas online news consumers viewed similar amounts of partisan-consistent and partisan-opposing websites.
Further analyses show that partisan segregation is more prominent in older adults in both the TV news and online news audiences. Partisan segregation is also more prominent overall in white Americans in both audiences compared to Americans that are not white. Lastly, results also show that generally news consumption habits are more stable and persistent for TV news compared to online news.
The researchers mention some limitations to this work including the lack of observation of online news consumption via mobile phone browser, local news, and other news-sharing websites like YouTube.
The study, “Quantifying partisan news diets in Web and TV audiences“, was authored by Daniel Muise, Homa Hosseinmardi, Baird Howland, Markus Mobius, David Rothschild, and Duncan J. Watts.