Internet search engines and social media platforms are an increasingly popular way of accessing news and information. In 2017, the proportion of UK adults consuming news online exceeded those who watched news on TV (74% versus 69%). This note considers how people access news online, how algorithms (sequences of instructions) and social networks influence the content that users see, and options for mitigating any negative impact.Jump to full report >>
Social media platforms and Internet search engines enable users to find information that they find most interesting or relevant by filtering content. Information is filtered by both algorithms and user behaviour (e.g. selecting who to follow or which pages to like). There are differing views on the potential effect that these technological changes are having on the opinions of individual users.
Some have suggested that filtering could lead to users only seeing content that conforms to their pre-existing beliefs, and that it could unintentionally limit the range of information that users see. Two phenomena have been proposed:
However, a growing body of research suggests that these filtering effects do not fully eliminate exposure to attitude-challenging information, for example because users on social media typically have a diverse social network spanning multiple geographic regions.
Concerns have been raised internationally by politicians, journalists and others about the spread of false information (“fake news”) online, and the effect that it may have on political events such as elections. There is no clear, agreed definition for fake news. Generally, it is defined as content intended to misinform or influence the reader. It is often financially or politically motivated.
The UK Government has no specific policies for addressing fake news, filter bubbles or echo-chambers. Attempts to address these issues have mainly focused on fake news, and have been largely industry-led, although other approaches include regulation and user education.
POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:
*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.
Authors: Lydia Harriss; Katie Raymer
Topics: Adult education, Broadcasting, Central government, Information technology, Intellectual property, Internet and cybercrime, Media, Political parties, Press, Schools, Science, Telecommunications
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