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Digital Echo Chambers as Phenomenon of Political Space

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Abstract

This article attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the academic literature on the subject, examining the different approaches, their similarities and general differences, advantages and disadvantages, and providing a consolidated and critical perspective that will hopefully be useful for future research in the field. The paper presents the results of a systematic review of Western academic studies on the existence of echo chambers in social media, an initial classification of the literature and the identification of research patterns. The authors show how conceptual and methodological choices influence research findings on the topic. Future research should take into account the potential shortcomings of different approaches and the significant potential of linking data.
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ 499
2022 Vol. 24 No. 3 499–516
http://journals.rudn.ru/political-science
RUDN Journal of Political Science. ISSN 2313-1438 (print), ISSN 2313-1446 (online)
Вестник Российского университета дружбы народов. Серия: ПОЛИТОЛОГИЯ
DOI: 10.22363/2313-1438-2022-24-3-499-516
Review article / Обзорная статья
Digital Echo Chambers as Phenomenon of Political Space
Mikhail A. Beznosov1 , Alexander S. Golikov2
1University of West Georgia, Carrolton, United States of America
2 V.N. Karazin Kharkov National University, Ukraine
✉ mbeznosov@westga.edu
Abstract. This article attempts to provide a comprehensive overview of the academic literature on the
subject, examining the dierent approaches, their similarities and general dierences, advantages and
disadvantages, and providing a consolidated and critical perspective that will hopefully be useful for
future research in the eld. The paper presents the results of a systematic review of Western academic
studies on the existence of echo chambers in social media, an initial classication of the literature
and the identication of research patterns. The authors show how conceptual and methodological
choices inuence research ndings on the topic. Future research should take into account the potential
shortcomings of dierent approaches and the signicant potential of linking data.
Keywords: echo chambers, social media, digital platforms, lter bubbles, political polarization
For citation: Beznosov, M.A, & Golikov, A.S. (2022). Digital echo chambers
as phenomenon of political space. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 24(3), 499–516.
https://doi.org/10.22363/2313-1438-2022-24-3-499-516
Цифровые эхо-камеры
как феномен политического пространства
М.А. Безносов1 , А.С. Голиков2
1 Университет Западной Джорджии, Карроллтон, Соединенные Штаты Америки
2 Харьковский национальный университет имени В.Н. Каразина, Харьков, Украина
✉ mbeznosov@westga.edu
Аннотация. В исследовании приводится всесторонний обзор академической литературы
по теме эхо-камер в цифровом пространстве как политического феномена, рассмотрены
различные подходы, их сходства и общие различия, преимущества и недостатки, а также
раскрывается консолидированная и критическая перспектива, которая, как мы надеемся,
© Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S., 2022
is work islicensed under aCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/legalcode
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ
POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 2022, 24(3), 499–516
500 POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
будет полезна для будущих исследований в данной области. Представлены результаты си-
стематического обзора западных академических исследований о существовании эхо-камер
в социальных медиа, первоначальная классификация литературы и выявление моделей ис-
следований. Авторы показывают, как концептуальный и методологический выбор влияет
на результаты исследований по данной теме. Будущие исследования должны учитывать по-
тенциальные недостатки различных подходов и значительный потенциал связывания дан-
ных.
Ключевые слова: эхо-камеры, социальные медиа, цифровые платформы, пузыри фильтров,
политическая поляризация
Для цитирования: Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. Digital echo chambers as phenomenon
of political space // Вестник Российского университета дружбы народов. Серия: Политоло-
гия. 2022. Т. 24. № 3. С. 499–516. https://doi.org/10.22363/2313-1438-2022-24-3-499-516
Introduction
The world of politics has been markedly transformed in recent decades. This is true
both in the world of political production and in the world of political consumption (to
continue with the metaphors of political marketing). The agora and the forum have
been replaced by networks and forums — but already in the electronic, Internet sense.
The intensication of communications, the growth of communicative and digital
power, has produced a variety of eects in this sense, often paradoxical. The public
and the intimate, openness and closedness, consistency and subjectivity, regularity
and randomness, free decision and control technologies, agreement and disagreement,
fabrication of agreement and imitation of disagreement have come into collision. All
these clashes are only intensied and dramatized in the context of the latest processes
associated with the transformation of the lifeworld and the technical sphere of modern
society [Habermas 1991]. One of these processes is the crystallization and consolidation
of the walls of “echo chambers”.
We are talking about “echo chambers” as specically and operationally closed
(though relatively open) topoi of digital and social space, in which multiple reproduction
and constant repetition (and thereby armative, amplifying retransmission) of the
same communicative acts take place. The “chamberness” of such communication does
not imply the absence of communicative receipts from the outside; this “chamberness”
means joint, collective, communal elaboration, processing, comprehension of these
communicative receipts; it means specic regulation of these receipts (and limitation
of alternative opinions and positions); it means a special mode of functioning of external
“issuing” from such chamber both information (communicative aggregates) and
individual people.
The digital nature of these echo chambers implies not only their functioning in digital
(Internet, communicative) space, but also their quantiability in principle. In this sense,
the world-famous case of Cambridge Analytica [Kaiser 2019] was the most important
signal for all sociology and political science: it turned out that “echo chambers” and
the communicative communities populating them can be counted, quantied, structured,
architected from the outside, subjected to professional operation. This raises questions
Безносов М.А., Голиков А.С. Вестник РУДН. Серия: Политология. 2022. Т. 24. № 3. С. 499–516
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ 501
about both the “naturalness” of such communities and the “fragmentation of democracy,”
about both “distributed freedom” and “exclusivity of political action,” about both the
“right to limit the other” and the “politics of subjectivity”.
Two recent political events triggered a signicant interest to the research of the
eects social media on democracy: the 2016 presidential elections in the U.S. and
the British vote to leave the EU. The focus of such fears and concerns is the belief
that social media function as an “echo chamber,” where like-minded voters, through
self-selecting and tuned algorithms based on big data, aggregate to consume and
share ideologically satisfying news and information [Bartlett 20161; Benton 2016;
Preston 2016; Tait 2016; Wol2, series on articles in Economist3]. Those close
circles of like-mindedness are allegedly formed at the cost of a comprehensive,
multidimensional, fact-based understanding of public aairs, which ultimately leads
to political polarization between ideologically rooted and/or emotionally charged
segments of society. Right-wing ideological polarization among anti-establishment
segments of society, which has been seen as a key factor in Brexit and the Trump
presidency, has been attributed to the functioning of social platforms like Facebook4
and how they have been misused for political marketing by companies like Cambridge
Analytica.
All this is amplied and further emphasized in “digital echo chambers,” where
all of the above becomes tangible, easily detectable, empirically measurable, visible
not only to the researcher, but also to direct social actors, participants in the political
process, producers of communicative processes. These “digital echo chambers” in this
sense can be considered as peculiar sociological and political science “petri dishes”
in which the processes latent in many other conditions are emphatically accentuated.
Such “digital echo chambers” are not only the most important stage in the
development of political marketing and political science, but also a signicant threat
to the very phenomenon of democracy and political space precisely as space.
The disintegration of space into such (operationally closed) topoi destroys politics
as a spatial phenomenon, as openness, as publicity in short, as everything that
J. Habermas [1991] or H. Arendt [1972] wrote about. However, it is only possible
to understand and evaluate this phenomenon in direct objective research.
1 Bartlett, B. (2016). It’s not too late to x Fox News. New York Times (19 September). Retrieved
from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/19/opinion/its-not-too-late-to-x-fox-news.html. Access date:
07.06.2022.
2 Wol, M. (2016). Michael Wol on Brexit: How ‘stupid’ beat ‘smart’ media (and how Trump
benets). Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved June, 7, 2022 from https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/
news/michael-wol-brexit-why-stupid-906430.
3 Scandal, outrage politics: Do social media threaten democracy? Economist, 4 November 2017.
Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/leaders/2017/11/04/do-social-media-threaten-democracy;
Once considered a boon to democracy, social media have started to look like its nemesis. Economist,
4 November 2017. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/brieng/2017/11/04/once-considered-
a-boon-to-democracy-social-media-have-started-to-look-like-its-nemesis.
4 21 марта 2022 г. Тверской суд города Москвы признал Meta (продукты Facebook и Instagram)
экстремистской организацией.
Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 2022, 24(3), 499–516
502 POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
Sociologists and psychologists have recorded similar phenomena before.
Thus, the “bandwagon” or the “spiral of silence” [Henshel, Johnston 1987;
Noelle-Neumann 1974], in essence, represent the same “echo chambers”, only
produced and supported by other technical means. However, in this case the
change of technical means generates a change in the structure and even the
nature of social phenomena, supported and provided by these technical means.
This is explained by the fact that communicative Internet digital media are
characterized by:
a) their permanent and universal presence in human life;
b) their high penetrability in dierent spheres of life;
c) the diversity of channels of inuence (text, audio, video, photo, etc.);
d) the speed and ease of transmission and retransmission;
e) the diversity of organization (channel, forum, agora, chatboard, club, etc.).
The variety of external designs they generate creates the illusion of multiple
and heterogeneous echo chambers. This also gives rise to the insecure illusion that
the heterogeneity of such “digital echo chambers” also preserves the chance for
multiplicity, diversity, and ultimately, the reality of democracy itself.
This article is an attempt to look at the history and logic of the development of the
term “echo chamber” in the Western academic discourse. Specically, in this literature
review, we examine social science writings that provide evidence for the existence,
causes, and eects of online echo chambers.
Much of the existing research focuses on the United States, which is in many ways
an extreme outlier among high-income democracies because political elites, the media
system, and public opinion are more polarized there than in otherwise similar countries.
Research in this area is extensive in some respects, almost non-existent in others.
To avoid an overlong review, we focus our eorts on recent studies primarily in the
social sciences that have a direct bearing on the possible links between media use and
how the public understands the world around them.
In the literature review we aim to summarize relevant empirical research and
clarify the meaning of terms that are used both in public and policy debate and in more
specialized scientic research, and not always in the same way.
Our hypothesis, however, is that external representation, formality, and external
structuredness are exclusively multiple forms for essentially homologous phenomena.
It is to investigate in this publication primarily theoretically and in an outline
exploratory format the essence of these phenomena that will be the goal of our article.
To achieve this goal, we will use a combination of research methods, including
desk research and uninvolved observation.
Echo chambers and filter bubbles as a social problem
Against the backdrop of recent decades, the advent of the Internet and World Wide
Web has drawn the attention of researchers to their potential impact on democracy
and the public sphere. There are diverging trends in the literature on this topic in the
modern Western academia.
Безносов М.А., Голиков А.С. Вестник РУДН. Серия: Политология. 2022. Т. 24. № 3. С. 499–516
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ 503
Many see these new technological innovations as contributing to a diversity
of communicative activities and diverse perspectives [Papacharissi, de Fatima,
Oliveira 2012], and creating opportunities for public engagement and increasing access
to news and political opinion [Bode 2012; de Zúñiga et al. 2012; Xenos et al. 2014]. The
other group of scholars have been more pessimistic, believing that digital technology
will lead to polarization suggesting it fosters users’ cautious selection of information
according to previous beliefs and the formation of increasingly homogeneous online
groups [McPherson et al. 2001].
Among the most typical expressions of this pessimistic vision are Sunstein’s
[2002; 2009] metaphor of the echo chamber and Pariser’s [2011] image of the online
lter bubble. The idea underlying the echo chamber is that social media users are
selectively interacting with like-minded people and ideologically similar content, and
hence rarely engage with the contradictory ideas. Perhaps this process is complicated
by the algorithmic processing of content by social media platforms based on previous
user activity (see “lter bubbles”), which reduces the novelty and diversity of content
that users encounter, and which, instead of encouraging a diversity of viewpoints,
leads to clustering and polarization online.
Very often “echo chambers” are being used in the academic discourse along with
the term “lter bubbles”. It is necessary to underline the dierence between an echo
chamber and a lter bubble. While many scholars do not nd the dierence between
“lter bubble” and “echo chamber”, we suggest that there is a conceptual dierence
between those terms. There is a basic understanding of the denition of the two. Internet
communication has meant individuals only access ideas by those with like-minded
beliefs. A narrow information consumption pattern leads to increasing polarization and
misunderstanding of those who are part of the same community.
More and more specialists and researchers are using the phrase “lter bubble”
to describe only online mechanisms of information polarization, like the algorithms
you nd on social media and search engines. In contrast, “echo chamber” refers
to both online and oine mechanisms, that act simultaneously. Usually, the concept
of “echo chamber” describes the situation when information consumers mostly
communicate with people with the same interests and receive information from them.
This situation is often recognized as “homophily” the tendency of individuals
to interact and associate with similar people [McPherson et al. 2001]; selective
exposure, which is related to the processes of avoiding challenges and reinforcing
demand and expressed in a tendency to consume ideologically consistent information
[Garrett, 2013; Garrett et al. 2013]; or conrmation bias the tendency to seek,
select and interpret information according to one’s belief system [Nickerson 1998].
It has been suggested that these tendencies are due to our desire to avoid cognitive
dissonance [Festinger 1957].
In general, there is no a coherent approach to understanding of this issue. What
we observe is that dierent scholars select dierent empirical approaches and utilize
dierent concepts for their analysis. And yet, the problem that remains is the forecasted
breakdown of the information-seeking, debate and opinion-forming environment.
Social media has the prospective to be a free and autonomous space for information-
Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 2022, 24(3), 499–516
504 POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
seeking and communication between people, fostering the development of the public
sphere as was viewed by Habermas [1991] and Dahlgren [2019]. At the same time,
this mechanism is not used when there is a lack of diversity, when there is no (or little)
exchange of views, there is no debate between opponents, which means that there is no
common opinion and common problems.
Information sharing, likely the result of echo chambers and lter bubbles, poses
a signicant threat given the growing focus of social media on news consumption
(Pew Research Center, 2018) and the fact that political reection and knowledge of the
views of other politicians is foundation of a healthy democracy.
Either way, echo chambers and lter bubbles are telling illustrations of the
general public fear that the use of social media can lead to limiting the information
users encounter or receive online, thereby not contributing to the overall free ow
of information experience.
For the purposes of this paper, the allegories of the echo chamber and the lter
bubble are interpreted as a situation or space in which pre-existing beliefs are repeated
and reinforced similar to the echo in an acoustic echo chamber. For the sake
of clarity, we will use the term “echo chambers in social media” (ECSM) to refer
to both the echo chamber problem and lter bubbles.
Background:
politics, internet and echo chambers
Following the 2016 US election, concerns have grown about the threats that digital
platforms pose to functioning Western liberal democracies. However, despite the vast
body of academic work in this area, the precise nature of these threats, empirical
solutions, and their relationship to the broader digital political economy remain under-
theorized. The four main threats have been identied as: fake news, lter bubbles/
echo chambers, networked hate speech, and surveillance. Although these threats are
widely discussed in academic and popular discussions, there is little understanding
of them: of their exact scope and scope (mutual) connections or how to ght against
them. With so much information in circulation, the state of empirical knowledge
is often obscured by the volume and interdisciplinary forces themselves, as well as by
the political and economic programs of competing interests (academics, platforms,
regulators, activists,).
ECSM emerge from the interplay between lter bubbles and people’s tendency
to search for information that ts comfortably with what they already know
[“conrmation bias”; Berentson-Shaw 2018]. ECSM can operate as a shield of identity
against epistemological and ontological uncertainty induced by viewpoints that
contradict our worldviews [Ceron, Memoli, 2016; Lu & Yu 2020]. Political substance
often exploits this vulnerability to amplify tendencies and a strong polarization eect
[Ceron & Memoli 2016].
ECSM form when people with similar views or opinions share information
within their group. They try to nd and disseminate information that is consistent
with their group’s norms and reinforces existing attitudes [Jamieson, Cappella 2008;
Безносов М.А., Голиков А.С. Вестник РУДН. Серия: Политология. 2022. Т. 24. № 3. С. 499–516
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ 505
Sunstein 2009]. Social psychology has shown that this tendency to associate with
like-minded people is common across cultures. Recently, however, there have been
concerns that the current media system is helping people get into echo chambers
more easily than ever before. The research in the 1950s showed that people tend
to avoid dissonance and gravitate towards agreement [Festinger 1957]. This
is related to concepts such as groupthink [Janis 1982] and selective inuence theory
[Klapper 1960]. In social networks, there are relevant theories about homophilia —
the tendency to form social bonds with similar people [McPherson, Smith-Lovin,
& Cook 2001]. There are two main ways in which the Internet and related technologies
can contribute to the development of ECSM: allowing people to make choices that
reinforce existing preferences, and algorithmic lter bubbles. The “lter bubble”
argument suggests that algorithmic ltering, which personalizes content presented
on social media and through search engines, may exacerbate people’s tendency
to choose media and content that reinforce their existing preferences [Pariser 2011].
«Echo chambers»
in the modern media coverage:
the dangers to democracy
Social media as an “echo chamber” (ECSM in our words) has been a part of the
media discourse for the last ten years. Eli Pariser [2011] published a rather worrying
book warning about the rise of “lter bubbles” in social media. And it received a very
substantial response from the journalist community resulting in the additional attention
to this issue eventually also raising the interest in the problem of “echo chamber”
[Bruns 2019] — and its potential harms to the ways we live and operate.
There was also a considerable concern about the future of social media where
growing reliance on personalized social networks will cause the people to trust their
friends more than the professional experts, which would have serious consequences
for social life [Keen 2007].
Eventually the issue of “echo chambers” presenting the danger for democracy
became a part of the mainstream media discourse following the elections of 2016
and Brexit. The media people expressed their concerns with the voters’ behavior
in Facebook5 communities when the people are “forced” to interact with like-minded
peers, which contradicts the initial assumption that social media and free internet
should make the users less isolated from new ideas and values. The other concern was
that in such situation it is more likely for those people to develop more extreme views,
resulting in greater political polarization [Benton 2016; Tait 2016].
Bartlett [2015] describes this as a process of “self-brainwashing”, “where certain
ideas are reproduced so frequently and without an opposing or alternative viewpoint
that it meets the classical denition of brainwashing” [Bartlett 2015]. This has been
particularly troubling for journalists because polarization has proven to be a gas pedal
5 21 марта 2022 г. Тверской суд города Москвы признал Meta (продукты Facebook и Instagram)
экстремистской организацией.
Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 2022, 24(3), 499–516
506 POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
of misinformation in social media. Peter Preston [2016] bemoaned that the rst loss
in a post-truth world would be the further degradation of public trust in mainstream
news. Applying the concept of “epistemic closure”, Preston feared that an increasingly
polarized political world might force people to leave quality journalism in favor
of biased reporting or no reporting at all.
«Echo chamber» in the research literature:
divergent facts. Evidence of the existence
and manifestation of echo chambers
Sociologists and political scientists mostly focus on surveys, passive observation
data, and social media data when analyzing the presence and distribution of ECSM.
From these data sources, only surveys and surveillance data can reveal a broader
picture of what media space people live in, because conclusions based on data
from a single social media platform that is almost never used alone cannot reveal
whether people live in limited, closed media space. For example, data from Twitter
is often used for analysis because it is more readily available, but is necessarily
limited to Twitter and says nothing about the wider use of media by people, not
to mention the vast majority of the population who do not use Twitter. In the UK,
only 31 % of respondents say they use Twitter, and only about half say they use it to
get messages [Newman et al. 2021].
In various countries, including the highly polarized United States, several cross-
platform studies — both based on surveys and passive surveillance — have shown that
relatively few people live in politically engaged news-ECSM.
To some extent, the concept of the “echo chamber” is supported by selective exposure
theory, which has been around for decades, stating that users of information selectively
choose messages that conform to their views while avoiding inconsistent opinions
[Sears, Freedman 1967]. Previously, when the number of existing news channels was
limited, studies found that selective inuence in information seeking in general does
not happen in situations of mass persuasion. However, with the emergence of the
Internet, users have greater access to a wealth of information and can choose what
they want, so they are more selective about content [Garrett 2013; Sunstein 2009;
Tewksbury 2005]. Social media seem to have taken this situation to new heights with
their shared ability to allow users to interact with news in unprecedented ways and
use sophisticated user-tracking algorithms to provide them with ideologically relevant
information [Beam, Kosicki 2014; Spohr 2017].
Looking closer, however, the assumption of the ECSM concept must be closely
examined and tested. At its simplest level, it has a tendency to reduce the social news
audience to a very passive role of a group of people easily sculpted by algorithms.
This, as has been shown by decades of audience studies, is at the very least too
oversimplied and does not help us comprehend the sophisticated socio-psychological
dynamism of public perception and the connection to news and media content. Even
more important, public discourse about the ECSM ignores the growing empirical
evidence that directly contradicts this notion.
Безносов М.А., Голиков А.С. Вестник РУДН. Серия: Политология. 2022. Т. 24. № 3. С. 499–516
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ 507
The main research methods that were used to analyze the eects of ECSM were
primarily surveys, passive tracking data, and social media data. The single social
media platforms do not constitute a sucient unit of analysis because the available
data in this case is limited to the specic platform and does not say anything about
individual’s wider media use.
There is a number studies conducted in various countries, which utilized a cross-
platform research relying on survey data and on passive tracking data, and found that
few people inhabit politically one-sided news-ECSM.
One latest study [Fletcher et al. 2021], relied on survey data from 2020 to analyze
the number of people in politically biased news-ECSM in the UK, Norway, Denmark,
Germany, Austria, and the US by looking at how many people only use news sources
with left- or right-leaning viewpoints (measured in terms of the overall ideological
angle of each group of audience). The results were quite intriguing, demonstrating
that the US case was very distinctive from the rest and the only one where more
than 10 % of the respondents indicated that they rely only on partisan news sources.
In every country included in this study, more internet users indicated that they do not
consume online news on a regular basis, thus not inhabiting any politically partisan
echo chambers.
What was particularly interesting is that the UK results from this study were
comparable to a previous analysis, also based on survey data, that found that around
10 % in the UK said they almost never get political content on social media that they
disagree with [Dubois, Blank 2018].
These results were similar to other studies of several European countries. In the
Netherlands, the research conducted by Bos et al. [2016] found some evidence
of selective exposure to news but acknowledged that the formation of ECSM was largely
weakened by people’s common use of moderately impartial public TV broadcasting.
Similarly, in Sweden, for instance, Dahlgren et al. [2019] discovered that while some
people did involve in selective exposure to news sources, this involvement was limited
demonstrating the suggesting a pattern of cross-cutting exposure to the news from
ideologically dierent sources. The study by Masip et al. [2020] in Spain did not nd
solid evidence for widespread news-ECSM and detected that most people accessed
other side media at least sometimes.
Even in the politically polarized United States, scholars discovered that ECSM are
smaller and less prevalent than commonly assumed. The study by Gentzkow, Shapiro,
Sinkinson [2011] detected that internet news consumers with homogeneous news
consumption are in minority, while the study by Garrett [2013] discovered that the notion
that large numbers of people inhabit ideological news-ECSM, is exaggerated and wrong.
There are also studies based on passive tracking that have similar results as analyses
of survey data from nationally representative samples, but such studies were mostly
conducted in the US.
A study by Fletcher et al. [2020] found a relative lack of political news-ECSM
in the UK when analyzing web tracking data. Likewise, in Israel, Dvir-Gvirsman et al.
[2016], while using web tracking data collected during the 2013 election, discovered
that 3 % of people were in a completely one-way political partisan ECSM, and that
Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 2022, 24(3), 499–516
508 POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
in most cases, people in Israel either had a relatively mixed media diet or did not
consume online news at all.
As it is evident, the existence of moderately neutral public service broadcasting
leads to the smaller likelihood of existence of political echo chambers. This is revealed
by the fact that the emergence and the size of ECSM is limited by the fact that many
people do not consume much online news in the rst place. For instance, in the UK,
around 25 % of internet users admitted that they consume no online news at all each
week [Newman et al. 2021].
There is also a series of studies that, while not intending to measure the size
of ECSM, nevertheless often arrives at similar conclusions by analyzing patterns
of media use. It should be noted, that in rather polarized U.S. the results are largely
similar. The study by Webster and Ksiazek [2012] discovered that the news consumers
tend to signicantly overlap across news sources. In 2018 A. Guess, B. Nyhan,
B. Lyons and J. Reier in their study based on analysis of tracking data found that there
is a signicant degree of equilibrium in respondents’ media consumption regardless
of political aliation. Much of their media consumption is grouped around the center
of the ideological spectrum. Shortly before, Nelson and Webster [2017] discovered
that consumers focus on a few popular political news sites and that political news sites
in general, regardless of popularity, have ideologically diverse audiences.
Later study by Yang et al. [2020], analyzing desktop and mobile data found observe
that ideologically dissimilar US audiences join on mainstream news outlets online, and
also noticed discovered little evidence of ideological selective exposure and, despite
what some researchers suggested, discovered growing co-exposure to news sources
over time. Based on the results from survey data, the authors also indicated that
signicantly more internet users consume no online news at all not rely exclusively
on one-sided sources.
We have previously discussed that single platform studies are rather
problematic for identifying ECSM. But in the process of our review we found but
there are several interesting studies that detect like-minded groups emerged within
specic social media platforms, and this happened through various ways like
self-selection, or algorithmic selection, or a combination of both [Bakshy et al.
2015; Barberá et al. 2015; Kaiser and Raucheisch 2020; Vaccari et al. 2016].
Nevertheless, they [Barberá 2015], often conclude that most social media users
acquire information from diverse viewpoints. Due to the absence of data on what
other media (other than the social media platform) the people studied use, this
study does make it impossible to conclude if people live in a limited, closed media
space in which certain messages are celebrated and defended from being disputed.
Other studies revealed that the social media have demonstrated either a limited
eect [Dimitrova et al. 2014] or a signicant positive eect (de Zúñiga et al. 2012)
on political knowledge. Furthermore, social media is only one of many likely media-
related drivers that foster political polarization. Yang et al. [2020], in a largescale cross-
national survey, discovered that the general use of online news consistently predicted
polarization on divisive political issues that were at the top of the agenda in the
countries examined. Turcotte et al. [2015] found in an experiment that while exposure
Безносов М.А., Голиков А.С. Вестник РУДН. Серия: Политология. 2022. Т. 24. № 3. С. 499–516
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ 509
to news shared by friends on social media boosts users’ trust in the relevant media and
their intention to use it, the potency of this connection largely rests on whether the
recommender is seen as an opinion leader.
In addition, it should be noted that there is a wealth of research showing that social
media can encourage political similarity and uniformity as well as promote political
heterogeneity and diversity. As Messing and Westwood (2014) have shown, social
news users are more likely to read news shared by their friends, even if that news does
not align with their political ideology.
Indeed, as Barberá [2015] and Barberá et al. [2015] have shown, online networks
not only replicate oine networks, but also facilitate the formation and reinforcement
of weak ties, allowing for greater political diversity. Even in the presence of ideological
similarities, exposure to heterogeneous content is still a typical outcome in a social
media environment [Vaccari et al. 2015]. Furthermore, users may choose to view news
site content that reects their political views, but the amount of self-selected inuence
through intentional selection of individual news sites or political groups accounts for
a small share of online activity. Moreover, much of the inuence of news via social
media is incidental, and users may be exposed to a broader range of news and views
[Kim et al. 2013].
Relatively recent work provides further evidence. As shown by Bruns [2017] who
analyzed a large dataset of Twitter accounts with more than thousands of followers,
there is moderate evidence that these Twitter accounts form distinctive clusters, but
there is rather signicant interaction between these clusters. In 2018 study based
on a national survey in the UK, Dubois and Blank discovered that people interested
in politics are generally able to elude echo chambers. Therefore, the authors concluded
that fears of the creation of echo chambers may be exaggerated.
Following the U.S. elections in 2016 events the studies demonstrated that it is
unlikely that the rise of populist politics was due to the polarizing eect of social
media. In 2017 the study by Allcott and Gentzkow determined from a U.S. post-election
survey that despite the fact that the ECSM eect was positively connected to beliefs
in fake election news, social media was the most important source of election news
for only 14 percent of U.S. voters. Later, study by Benkler et al. [2017] demonstrated
profoundly deep-seated sociopolitical and structural factors, rather than ideological
ECSM eect as a key factor in Trump’s victory. At the same time, Groshek and Koc-
Michalska [2017] discovered that, despite the popular assumption, social media users
are less likely to vote for Trump.
This does not necessarily indicate that there is insucient convincing evidence
to support the argument for an ECSM eect. A study conducted two months after
the 2016 US presidential election [Justwan et al. 2018], discovered that Republican
supporters exposed to the ECSM were more likely to feel satised with American
democracy. According to the authors, the post-election polarization resulted in signicant
dierences between voters of the winning and losing parties. On the other hand, in 2017
Bae examined survey data for social media users and discovered that social media use
inuenced the users from South Korea to believe in political rumors that matched with
their beliefs, which he also explained by the eect of “echo chambers”.
Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 2022, 24(3), 499–516
510 POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
While social media is not the only reason for the development of ECSM
[Beam, Hutchens, & Hmielowski 2018], research on Twitter [Guo et al. 2020;
Himelboim, McCreery, Smith 2013] demonstrates how certain platform features
contribute to ideological similarity and therefore polarization of the political views
[Himelboim et al. 2013]. Research on Reddit by Massanari in 2015 has found that
a content selection algorithm that favors the most popular and recent posts can
contribute to a toxic ‘technoculture’ that leads to divergent views on contemporary
issues. This creates the impression that some views are more widespread than they
really are, which legitimizes the systematic segregation of marginalized groups
or people with dierent views.
Some scholars argue that the debate around ECSM is exaggerated and that
technology should be blamed for human problems [Bruns 2019]. Empirical research
on political communication shows that it is user choice, not algorithms, that limits the
diversity of information [Fletcher et al. 2018; Moeller et al. 2016]. There are human
factors that reduce the ECSM eect including: communication methods [Zimmer,
Scheibe, Stock 2019], network homogeneity [Allcott, Gentzkow 2017], root beliefs
[Nguyen, Vu 2019], level of political interest, and diverse media choices [Dubois,
Blank 2018].
To summarize, the depiction of the ECSM eect in political news consumption has
received ambiguous empirical support, with the more evidence in favor of rejecting
this eect.
It should be noted that besides the Western research on echo chambers there
is a lively discussion on this topic going on in other parts of the world. It is interesting
to highlight that most of the empirical studies conducted in Russia conrm the echo
chamber phenomenon. According to Martyanov and Bykov, traditional political
ideologies in today’s information society do not lose their importance, although
their ideas and values are transformed and modernized in online space [Martyanov,
Bykov 2017]. Users, belonging to dierent political ideologies, form stable “echo
chambers” in their online environment, rigidly ltering the information they receive,
locking themselves in and reproducing attributes only of their political ideology and
not allowing outsiders in. At the same time, on the margins of social media there are
erce clashes between supporters of dierent political currents, often crossing the line
between online and oine interactions. These conclusions are supported by a number
of other Russian scholars [Martyanov, Martyanova 2019; Volodenkov, Fedorchenko
2021; Zamkov 2019; Barsukov 2018, and others].
Conclusion
In this review, we have looked at the evidence concerning the existence, causes,
and eects of online echo chambers and have considered what related research can tell
us about scientic discussions online and how they might shape public understanding
of science and the role of science in society.
To conclude, let us make several nal points about the state of the Western research
of the echo chambers.
Безносов М.А., Голиков А.С. Вестник РУДН. Серия: Политология. 2022. Т. 24. № 3. С. 499–516
ПОЛИТИЧЕСКАЯ ПОЛЯРИЗАЦИЯ И ИНТЕРНЕТ-ПРОТЕСТ 511
First, a lot of empirical studies demonstrating that ECSM are smaller than
commonly assumed, and the mounting volume of research rejecting the lter bubble
hypothesis, should not be confused with the assumption that our increasingly digital,
mobile and platform-dominated media environment poses no serious social problems.
There are a number of them, including the often overlooked reality of signicant
inequality in the use of news and information documented in many of the studies
reviewed here, as well as a host of others, such as widespread online harassment and
abuse, various types of misinformation, often invasive data collection by dominant
platforms, serious disruption of established news businesses and market concentration,
and many other problems that are beyond the scope of this review. The research show
that people who are not interested in politics and do not use a variety of media are more
likely to be in an ECSM. They are less likely to check multiple sources or discover
things that change their minds. This is an argument that the ECSM exists, but for
a certain segment of the population.
Second, the perils associated with people primarily seeking out information that
matches their views, let alone living in a conned media space where their pre-existing
views are rarely challenged, may be far less than many believe, and yet they are ever-
present, and it is clearly possible for people to come to hold very polarized views, often
the views that contradict the best available scientic research — without living in echo
chambers or lter bubbles. Sometimes minorities, however small, play an important role
in driving public and political debate and decision-making. As was noted, in the U.S.
context, despite the fact that most Americans do not live in ECSM, they are inuenced
by those who do. And in many cases conrmation bias, motivated reasoning, and social
reinforcement from the o-line communities where we were politically socialized for
most of our life, will cause us to have very distinct views, even though we also encounter
a wide variety of dierent kinds of information through digital media.
Third, research in the eld is broadly developed in some aspects and almost absent
in others. Among other things, there is often a lack of research outside the US, there
is much less research specically on academic issues rather than on policy and media
use in general.
Finally, the research suggests that ECSM may exist for a certain segment of the
population leading to conclusion that increasing media literacy may help people learn
to avoid ECSM. Media literacy campaigns often argue that people should not rely
solely on social media and that people with a wider choice of media are better able
to avoid ECSM.
Received / Поступила в редакцию: 17.04.2022
Revised / Доработана после рецензирования: 07.06.2022
Accepted / Принята к публикации: 15.06.2022
Beznosov M.A., Golikov A.S. RUDN Journal of Political Science, 2022, 24(3), 499–516
512 POLITICAL POLARIZATION AND INTERNET PROTEST
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About the authors:
Mikhail A. Beznosov PhD in Political Sciences, PhD Candidate in Sociology, University
of West Georgia, Political Department of Civic Engagement and Public Service, USA (e-mail:
mbeznosov@westga.edu) (ORCID: 0000-0001-6146-1802)
Alexander S. Golikov Doctor of Sociological Sciences (Dr. Hab. in Sociology), Associate
Professor of Sociology Department and Political Sociology Department of V.N. Karazin Kharkov
National Univesity, Ukraine (e-mail: a.s.golikov@gmail.com) (ORCID: 0000-0002-6786-0393)
Сведения об авторах:
Безносов Михаил Анатольевич доктор философии в области политологии, кандидат
социологических наук, кафедра гражданской активности и государственной службы,
Университет Западной Джорджии, США (e-mail: mbeznosov@westga.edu) (ORCID: 0000-
0001-6146-1802)
Голиков Александр Сергеевич — доктор социологических наук, доцент кафедры социологии
Харьковского национального университета имени В.Н. Каразина, Украина (e-mail: a.s.golik-
ov@gmail.com) (ORCID: 0000-0002-6786-0393)
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