Is Facebook making people more polarised?
Washington: Social networking site Facebook may boost our political leanings and cause us to ignore friends we don’t agree with, according to a new study.
The study by Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that people who think the majority of their friends have differing opinions than their own engage less on Facebook.
For those who choose to stay logged in and politically active, the research found that most tend to stick in their own circles, ignore those on the other side and become more polarised.
The study also suggests a few design changes that could allow the social media platform to bridge political differences.
By displaying shared interests between friends during their prickly conversations, Facebook could help diffuse possible arguments and alleviate tension, researchers said.
The study also notes that increasing exposure and engagement to weak ties could make people more resilient in the face of political disagreement.
“People are mainly friends with those who share similar values and interests. They tend to interact with them the most, a phenomenon called homophily,” said Catherine Grevet, who led the study.
“But that means they rarely interact with the few friends with differing opinions. As a result, they aren’t exposed to opposing viewpoints,” said Greve.
Facebook’s algorithms don’t help the cause. Newsfeeds are filled with the friends a person most often interacts with, typically those with strong ties, researchers said.
Grevet suggests that the social media site should sprinkle in a few status updates on both sides of political issues. That would expose people to different opinions, which are typically held by weak ties.
“Designing social media towards nudging users to strengthen relationships with weak ties with different viewpoints could have beneficial consequences for the platform, users and society,” said Grevet.
The study surveyed more than 100 politically active Facebook users in the spring of 2013 amid debates about budgets cuts, gay marriage and gun control regulations.
The majority of participants were liberal, female and under the age of 40, mirroring the traditional Facebook user.
More than 70 per cent said they don’t talk about politics with their friends with different opinions. When they saw something they didn’t agree with, 60 per cent said they ignored it and didn’t comment.
When they did, sometimes it made the person question the relationship and disassociate and from the friend.