From a new Knight Foundation report co-authored with Andrew Guess, Benjamin Lyons, and Jason Reifler:
Is the expansion of media choice good for democracy? Not according to critics who decry "echo chambers," "filter bubbles," and "information cocoons" — the highly polarized, ideologically homogeneous forms of news and media consumption that are facilitated by technology. However, these claims overstate the prevalence and severity of these pa erns, which at most capture the experience of a minority of the public.
In this review essay, we summarize the most important findings of the academic literature about where and how Americans get news and information. We focus particular attention on how much consumers engage in selective exposure to media content that is consistent with their political beliefs and the extent to which this pattern is exacerbated by technology.
As we show, the data frequently contradict or at least complicate the "echo chambers" narrative, which has ironically been amplified and distorted in a kind of echo chamber effect.
We instead emphasize three fundamental features of preferences for news about politics. First, there is diversity in the sources and media outlets to which people pay attention. In particular, only a subset of Americans are devoted to a particular outlet or set of outlets; others have more diverse information diets. Second, though some people have high levels of motivation to follow the latest political news, many only pay attention to politics at critical moments, or hardly at all. Finally, the context in which we encounter information matters. Endorsements from friends on social media and algorithmic rankings can influence the information people consume, but these effects are more modest and contingent than many assume. Strikingly, our vulnerability to echo chambers may instead be greatest in offline social networks, where exposure to diverse views is often more rare.