Social media research, a constantly updating bibliography

Document outline

Tools for empowerment and commonsense rules

Read Nir Eyal and Jonathan Haidt’s “3 Things Parents Need to Know Now About Kids and Tech on Medium. Their three rules should be followed. Screens and sleep don’t mix. Delay social media until high school. Agree on a time budget.

Here is what I use to take back control:

Curate your feed

  • Repetition increases the likelihood that a statement will be judged as true. This illusory truth effect is well established; however, it has been argued that repetition will not affect belief in unambiguous statements. When individuals are faced with obviously true or false statements, repetition should have no impact. We report a simulation study and a preregistered experiment that investigate this idea. Contrary to many intuitions, our results suggest that belief in all statements is increased by repetition. The observed illusory truth effect is largest for ambiguous items, but this can be explained by the psychometric properties of the task, rather than an underlying psychological mechanism that blocks the impact of repetition for implausible items. Our results indicate that the illusory truth effect is highly robust and occurs across all levels of plausibility. Therefore, even highly implausible statements will become more plausible with enough repetition. [NIH]
  • In daily life, we frequently encounter false claims in the form of consumer advertisements, political propaganda, and rumors. Repetition may be one way that insidious misconceptions, such as the belief that vitamin C prevents the common cold, enter our knowledge base. Research on the illusory truth effect demonstrates that repeated statements are easier to process, and subsequently perceived to be more truthful, than new statements. The prevailing assumption in the literature has been that knowledge constrains this effect (i.e., repeating the statement “The Atlantic Ocean is the largest ocean on Earth” will not make you believe it). We tested this assumption using both normed estimates of knowledge and individuals’ demonstrated knowledge on a postexperimental knowledge check (Experiment 1). Contrary to prior suppositions, illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better. Multinomial modeling demonstrated that participants sometimes rely on fluency even if knowledge is also available to them (Experiment 2). Thus, participants demonstrated knowledge neglect, or the failure to rely on stored knowledge, in the face of fluent processing experiences. [APA]

Social cognition, social media as a tool of thinking

The Majority Illusion: “In some cases, the structure of the underlying social network can dramatically skew an individual’s local observations, making a behavior appear far more common locally than it is globally. We trace the origins of this phenomenon, which we call ‘the majority illusion,’ to the friendship paradox in social networks. As a result of this paradox, a behavior that is globally rare may be systematically overrepresented in the local neighborhoods of many people, i.e., among their friends. Thus, the “majority illusion” may facilitate the spread of social contagions in networks and also explain why systematic biases in social perceptions, for example, of risky behavior, arise. Using synthetic and real-world networks, we explore how the “majority illusion” depends on network structure and develop a statistical model to calculate its magnitude in a network.” [arXiv]

Collectively jumping to conclusions: Social information amplifies the tendency to gather insufficient data” by Justin Sulik, Charles Efferson & Ryan McKay. Abstract: False beliefs can spread within societies even when they are costly and when individuals share access to the same objective reality. Research on the cultural evolution of misbeliefs has demonstrated that a social context can explain what people think but not whether it also explains how people think. We shift the focus from the diffusion of false beliefs to the diffusion of suboptimal belief-formation strategies and identify a novel mechanism whereby misbeliefs arise and spread. We show that, when individual decision makers have access to the data-gathering behavior of others, the tendency to make decisions on the basis of insufficient evidence is amplified, increasing the rate of incorrect, costly decisions. We argue that this mechanism fills a gap in current explanations of problematic, widespread misbeliefs such as climate change denial.

Most of us actually prefer to follow the pack, according to research. That’s one of the outcomes from a study that examines how mathematical models predict human behavior. “People are conformist – and that’s a good thing for cultural evolution,” said Michael Muthukrishna, a Vanier and Liu Scholar and recent PhD recipient from UBC’s department of psychology. “By being conformist, we copy the things that are popular in the world. And those things are often good and useful.” For example, most people don’t understand how germs can cause disease – but they know they should wash their hands after using the bathroom. “Our whole world is made up of things that we do that are good for us, but we don’t know why,” said Muthukrishna. “And we don’t need to know why. We just need to know that most people do those things.” The research also found that people with higher IQs don’t follow the pack as much as others – but when they do, they do so more strategically. In other words, smarter people tend to take their own path most of the time, because they think they have the correct answer. When they’re unsure, however, they are more willing than those with average IQs to follow the majority. [source]

The best decision-making environment, Mr. Pentland says, is one with high levels of both “engagement” and “exploration.” Engagement is a measure of how often people in a group communicate with each other, sharing social knowledge. Exploration is a measure of seeking out new ideas and new people. The M.I.T. researchers found a spectrum of social trading behavior, which is a form of social learning. They ranged from isolated traders, with few or no social trades, to the traders who were the most densely connected, often to others with similar strategies to their own, a trading “echo chamber,” Mr. Pentland writes. Those with a balance of diversity of ideas in their trading network — engagement and exploration — had returns that were 30 percent ahead of isolated traders and well ahead of the echo chamber traders, too. [source]

Offloading information to an external store increases false recall” by Xinyi Lu, Megan Kelly & Evan Risko; Abstract: “Offloading to-be-remembered information is a ubiquitous memory strategy, yet in relying on external memory stores, our ability to recall from internal memory is often diminished. In the present investigation, we examine how offloading impacts true and false recall. Across three experiments, participants studied and wrote down word lists that were each strongly associated with an unstudied critical word. Recall in the Offloading condition (i.e., when they were told that they would have access to their written lists during recall) was contrasted with a No-Offloading condition (i.e., when they were told that they would not have access to their written lists during recall). We found that offloading decreased true recall of presented words while increasing false recall for unpresented critical words. Results are discussed in terms of offloading’s differential effects on the formation of gist and verbatim traces during encoding.”

Study finds anonymous online comments influence opinions on vaccination. Researchers showed participants two PSAs (one pro- and one anti-vaccine) followed by anonymous comments. Participants were equally persuaded by the PSAs and the online comments. (source)

Psychologists can give you false memories of committing a crime. (source)

Humans are inclined to see narratives where there are none because it can afford meaning to our lives, a form of existential problem-solving. People remember information when it is weaved into narratives “up to 22 times more than facts alone.” (source)

A new study from Pew Research Center found that most Americans can’t tell social media bots from real humans, and most are convinced bots are bad. “Only 47 percent of Americans are somewhat confident they can identify social media bots from real humans,” reports The Verge. “In contrast, most Americans surveyed in a study about fake news were confident they could identify false stories.”

“Reason is an adaptation to the hypersocial niche humans have evolved for themselves,” Mercier & Sperber write. Habits of mind that seem weird or goofy…prove shrewd when seen from a social “interactionist” perspective. [The New Yorker]

“False beliefs can spread within societies even when they are costly and when individuals share access to the same objective reality. Research on the cultural evolution of misbeliefs has demonstrated that a social context can explain what people think but not whether it also explains how people think. We shift the focus from the diffusion of false beliefs to the diffusion of suboptimal belief-formation strategies and identify a novel mechanism whereby misbeliefs arise and spread. We show that, when individual decision makers have access to the data-gathering behavior of others, the tendency to make decisions on the basis of insufficient evidence is amplified, increasing the rate of incorrect, costly decisions. We argue that this mechanism fills a gap in current explanations of problematic, widespread misbeliefs such as climate change denial.” [NIH]

Online communities and the desire to commune

Identity cues – pseudonyms or real names, often displayed with profile photos – appear ubiquitously alongside content in social media. In this paper, we seek to understand to what extent these cues affect how people form opinions about content they consume online. We present results from a large scale (N=1.7×10^7), two-year-long field experiment with a novel anonymization condition. We assigned content produced on a social news discussion website to “identified” and “anonymous” conditions to estimate the causal effect of identity cues on how viewers interact with content in terms of ratings and reply comments. Our results show that identity cues cause people to rate content faster (consistent with heuristic processing) and to rate according to content producers’ production, reputation, and reciprocal ratings with content viewers. Our results provide insight into the evolution of status in online communities and evidence for rich-get-richer dynamics that are mediated by identity cues. The methods we use can help platform providers detect and correct for an important source of bias in crowdsourced ratings that cause inequality in feedback. (link)

This study examines how consumers’ engagement with social media platforms drives engagement with advertising embedded in these platforms and, subsequently, evaluations of this advertising. Our survey (N = 1,346, aged 13 and older) maps social media users’ engagement experiences with Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat and their experiences with and evaluations of advertising on these platforms. Our findings show that engagement is highly context specific; it comprises various types of experiences on each social media platform such that each is experienced in a unique way. Moreover, on each platform, a different set of experiences is related to advertising evaluations. It is further shown that engagement with social media advertising itself is key in explaining how social media engagement is related to advertising evaluations. The general conclusion is that there is no such thing as “social media.” (link)

Understanding online communities requires an appreciation of both structure and culture. But basic questions remain difficult to pose. How do these facets interact and drive each other? Using data on the membership and governance styles of 5,000 small-scale online communities, we construct empirical measures for cross-server similarities in institutional structure and culture to explore the influence of institutional environment on their culture, and the influence of culture on their institutional environment. To establish the influence of culture and institutions on each other, we construct networks of communities, linking those that are more similar either in their members or governance. We then use network analysis to assess the causal relationships between shared culture and institutions. Our result shows that while effects in both directions are evident, there is a much stronger role for institutions on culture than culture on institutions. These processes are evident within administrative and informational type rules. [link]

Contrary to our hypotheses, policy, and industry advice regarding the assumed benefits of filtering we found convincing evidence that Internet filters were not effective at shielding early adolescents from aversive online experiences. [source]

A social norm is a behavior that emerges as a convention within society without any direction from a central authority. Social norms emerge as repeated interactions between individuals give rise to biases toward actions or behaviors which spread through the society until one behavior is adapted as the default behavior, even when multiple acceptable behaviors exist. Of particular interest to us is how and when norms emerge in social networks, which provide a framework for individuals to interact routinely. We study how quickly norms converge in social networks depending on parameters such as the topology of the network, population size, neighborhood size, and number of behavior alternatives. Our research can be used to model and analyze popular social networks on the Internet such as Facebook, Flickr, and Digg. In addition, it can be used to predict how norms emerge and spread in human societies, ranging from routine decisions like which side of the road to drive on to social trends such as the green phenomenon. [link]

We use an extract from an interview concerning gravitational wave physics to show that the meaning of hesitancies within speech are different when spoken and when read from the corresponding transcript. When used in speech, hesitancies can indicate a pause for thought, when read in a transcript they indicate uncertainty. In a series of experiments the perceived uncertainty of the transcript was shown to be higher than the perceived uncertainty of the spoken version with almost no overlap for any respondent. We propose that finding and the method could be the beginning of a new subject we call ‘Language Code Analysis’ which would systematically examine how meanings change when the ‘same’ words are communicated via different media and symbol systems. [arXiv]

The impressive success of peer production – a large-scale collaborative model of production primarily based on voluntary contributions – is difficult to explain through the assumptions of standard economic theory. The aim of this paper is to study the prosocial foundations of cooperation in this new peer production economy. We provide the first field test of existing economic theories of prosocial motives for contributing to real-world public goods. We use an online experiment coupled with observational data to elicit social preferences within a diverse sample of 850 Wikipedia contributors, and seek to use to those measures to predict subjects’ field contributions to the Wikipedia project. We find that subjects’ field contributions to Wikipedia are strongly related to their level of reciprocity in a conditional Public Goods game and in a Trust game and to their revealed preference for social image within the Wikipedia community, but not to their level of altruism either in a standard or in a directed Dictator game. Our results have important theoretical and practical implications, as we show that reciprocity and social image are both strong motives for sustaining cooperation in peer production environments, while altruism is not. (link)

We argue that reputation mechanisms used by platform markets suffer from two inherent problems. First, buyers may draw conclusions about the quality of the platform from any single transaction, causing an externality across sellers. Second, buyers who abandon the platform without leaving feedback will cause seller reputations to be biased. Using data from ebay, we document both of these problems and argue that platforms will benefit from actively screening and promoting higher quality sellers. Exploiting the bias in feedback, we create a measure of seller quality and demonstrate the benefits of our approach through a controlled experiment that prioritizes better quality sellers to a random subset of buyers. We thus highlight the importance of reputational externalities in platform markets and chart an agenda that aims to create more realistic models of such markets. (link)

As Judith Donath has convincingly argued, “In the world of social media, of Facebook and Twitter, news is shared not just to inform or even to persuade. It is used as a marker of identity, a way to proclaim your affinity with a particular community.”

The most addictive smartphone functions all share a common theme: they tap into the human desire to connect with other people. The findings suggest that smartphone addiction could be hyper-social, not anti-social. (link)

This CNN clip is fascinating. [CNN]

Value of social media

“Our new estimates imply that accounting for innovations in consumer content delivery matters: The innovations boost consumer surplus by nearly \$1,800 (2017 dollars) per connected user per year for the full period of this study (1987 to 2017) and contribute more than 1/2 percentage point to US real GDP growth during the last ten. All told, our more complete accounting of innovations is (conservatively) estimated to have moderated the post-2007 GDP growth slowdown by nearly .3 percentage points per year.” (link)

Though the populations sampled and the auction design differ across the experiments, we consistently find the average Facebook user would require more than \$1000 to deactivate their account for one year. (link)

In 2016, based on conservative estimates, American adults spent 437 billion hours, worth at least \$7.1 trillion in terms of foregone wages, consuming content on ad-supported media. The paper shows that the exchange of content for time internalizes externalities between consumers and advertisers and that the use of content to harvest attention results in significant economic efficiencies. It then presents a simple model of the attention market, based on platforms competing for scarce attention and selling into a competitive market for advertising, and shows that this model is broadly consistent with key empirical regularities. Lastly, the paper shows that the attention market likely generates considerable consumer surplus from content creation as well as economic efficiency from intensifying competition through the delivery of advertising messages, many of which consumers would have avoided if they could. (link)

“E-Commerce spending reached 8% of consumption by 2017, yielding consumers the equivalent of a 1% permanent boost to their consumption, or over \$1,000 per household. While some of the gains arose from saving travel costs of buying from local merchants, most of the gains stemmed from substituting to online merchants. Higher income cardholders gained more, as did consumers in more densely populated counties.” (link)

Time spent using social media was not related to individual changes in depression or anxiety over 8 years. (link)

I’m not completely sold on all the specifics, but here is a paper modeling out a breakup of Facebook. (MIT) The effect: Consumer surplus would be lowered by 44 percent.

This paper studies the mechanism of users’ online activities and their implications for the firm value, and quantifies them for Internet firms that have been recently growing fast. Users collectively spend billions of person-hours creating user-generated content which is then becomes an asset that produces a stream of value for fellow users, and of course, the host site itself, labeled user-generated capital. Using the firm-level characteristics and data on users’ online activities, we find that an Internet firm’s value is significantly positively associated with users’ time spent on the Internet firm’s own website(s). Building and studying a dynamic general equilibrium model of users’ time allocation among competing websites, we find that improvements in either the website quality—i.e., the firm’s platform capital—or the efficiency of user-capital investment immediately increase the Internet firm’s value by shifting up users’ time spent on the website in the future. Using the calibrated model, we carry out a counterfactual experiment of completely removing user-generated capital now and temporarily keeping it to a low level in the near future; we find that in this case, user-generated capital account for about 60 percent of the Internet firm’s value. (link)

The Internet has radically transformed the way we live our lives. The net changes in consumer surplus and economic activity, however, are difficult to measure because some online activities, such as obtaining news, are new ways of doing old activities while new activities, like social media, have an opportunity cost in terms of activities crowded out. This paper uses data from the American Time Use Survey from 2003 – 2011 to estimate the crowdout effects of leisure time spent online. That data show that time spent online and the share of the population engaged in online activities has been increasing steadily. I find that, on the margin, each minute of online leisure time is correlated with 0.29 fewer minutes on all other types of leisure, with about half of that coming from time spent watching TV and video, 0.05 minutes from (offline) socializing, 0.04 minutes from relaxing and thinking, and the balance from time spent at parties, attending cultural events, and listening to the radio. Each minute of online leisure is also correlated with 0.27 fewer minutes working, 0.12 fewer minutes sleeping, 0.10 fewer minutes in travel time, 0.07 fewer minutes in household activities, and 0.06 fewer minutes in educational activities. (link)

Even under generous assumptions, this survey suggests Google could hope to make somewhere between \$14 and \$15 million dollars per year if it charged a fee. (link)


Technology use makes your brain younger: Cognitive decline correlates with age-associated health risks and has been shown to be a good predictor of future morbidity and mortality. Cognitive functioning can therefore be considered an important measure of differential ageing across cohorts and population groups. Here, we investigate if and why individuals aged 50+ born into more recent cohorts perform better in terms of cognition than their counterparts of the same age born into earlier cohorts (Flynn effect). Based on two waves of English and German survey data, we show that cognitive test scores of participants aged 50+ in the later wave are higher compared with those of participants aged 50+ in the earlier wave. The mean scores in the later wave correspond to the mean scores in the earlier wave obtained by participants who were on average 4–8 years younger. The use of a repeat cross-sectional design overcomes potential bias from retest effects. We show for the first time that although compositional changes of the older population in terms of education partly explain the Flynn effect, the increasing use of modern technology (i.e., computers and mobile phones) in the first decade of the 2000s also contributes to its explanation. (source)

The repetitive movements made by our thumbs as they glide over touchscreens is reshaping the sensory processing from our hands, and this can been adjusted on demand when we are using our phones. The researchers believe this is evidence that “the contemporary brain is continuously shaped by the use of personal digital technology.” (source)

Text messages aren’t really ruining your ability to spell: These results tie in with most previous work on literacy skills and text messaging. In their school years, students are consolidating their knowledge of written language. “Playing around” with language in the informal setting of texting provides the chance to practice alternative ways of linking sounds and letters (“Hey, I could write thanks as thanx!”), an ability which is well known to underlie strong reading and spelling skills. (source)

New research finds that live streaming university lectures increases educational inequality (randomised experiment). [link]

Surgery students ‘losing dexterity to stitch patients’ due to smartphone use. (link)

When human drivers retake control of an autonomous car, the transition could be problematic, depending on how conditions have changed since they were last at the wheel. [link]

“In both experiments, higher usage of smartphones led only to a diminished ability to interpret and analyze the deeper meaning of information. However, Study 3 showed that, after a 4‐week interval, the difference in the ability to interpret and analyze meaning between lower and higher phone usage groups was no longer evident. The findings of this study suggest that, even in the rare cases where smartphones might alter cognition, this effect is likely transitory.” [link]

Using German bank data, researchers found that the same investor in the same month increased their purchasing of riskier and lottery-type assets when on their cell phone. [NBER]

The impact of GPS, originally posted here:

  • “Results showed that GPS users traveled longer distances and made more stops during the walk than map users and direct-experience participants. Also, GPS users traveled more slowly, made larger direction errors, drew sketch maps with poorer topological accuracy, and rated wayfinding tasks as more difficult than direct-experience participants. Characteristics of navigation with these three learning media and possible reasons for the ineffectiveness of the GPS-based navigation system are discussed.” (link)
  • “Experimental recall of spatial and semantic information indicates that using a road map enables subjects to demonstrate a significantly better spatial understanding, identify semantic elements more often using common terms, place semantic elements in spatial locations with greater accuracy and recall semantic elements in tighter clusters than when using a GPS. We conclude that a spatial understanding is a necessary framework for organizing semantic information that is useful for inferred tasks.” (link)
  • “Navigating from a paper map required most mental effort and both young and older cyclists preferred electronic over paper map navigation. In particular a turn-by-turn dedicated guidance device was favoured. Visual maps are in particular useful for cyclists with higher spatial skills. Turn-by-turn information is used by all cyclists, and it is useful to make these directions available in all devices.” (link)
  • “The results revealed that the drivers performed better when using a portable navigation system compared to those using a paper map, in terms of efficiency to destination and driving performance. In addition, drivers could save time and gasoline using a portable navigation system when in an unfamiliar region, and driving performance may be safer, despite the fact that the display screen of the phone is small.” (link)
  • “In particular, the visual distraction of the use of navigation systems in comparison to traditional map-based navigation was examined by means of eye-tracking and the monitoring of driving dynamics. Differences in routing were also explored. Data analysis indicates increasing road safety when a navigation system is used in unfamiliar areas. Fewer gazes exceeding 2 seconds were found for users of the navigation system whereas map navigation leads to higher eyes-off-the-road time.” (link)
  • “Participants’ performance using GPS on the road was significantly better than with printed directions.” (link)


  • PPI Internet Advertising Sales, Excluding Internet Advertising Sold by Print Publishers [FRED]

  • Concentration in the online ad market leads to less revenue for those firms because it can allows for a more efficient targeting of keywords through the use of superior information. [NBER]

Are the kids going to be alright?

“An ongoing open-source literature review posted and curated by Jonathan Haidt (NYU-Stern) and Jean Twenge (San Diego State U).” [Google Docs]

Institute of Education Sciences' Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2019

“Many social commentators posit that children’s social skills are declining as a result of exposure to technology. But this claim is difficult to assess empirically because it is challenging to measure “social skills” with confidence and because a strong test would employ nationally representative data of multiple cohorts. No scholarship currently meets these criteria. The authors fill that gap by comparing teachers’ and parents’ evaluations of children’s social skills among children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study 1998 and 2010 cohorts. The authors find no evidence that teachers or parents rate children’s face-to-face social skills as poorer among more recent cohorts, even when accounting for family characteristics, screen time use, and other factors. In addition, within cohorts, children with heavy exposure to screens exhibit similar social skills trajectories compared to children with little exposure to screens. There is a notable exception—social skills are lower for children who access online gaming and social networking many times a day. Overall, however, the results represent a challenge to the dominant narrative that social skills are declining due to technological change.” [source]

In 2004, Christakis and colleagues published an influential paper claiming that early childhood television exposure causes later attention problems (Christakis, Zimmerman, DiGiuseppe, & McCarty, 2004), which continues to be frequently promoted by the popular media. Using the same NLSY-79 dataset (n = 2,108), we conducted two multiverse analyses to examine whether the finding reported by Christakis et al. was robust to different analytic choices. We evaluated 848 models, including logistic regression as per the original paper, plus linear regression and two forms of propensity score analysis. Only 166 models (19.6%) yielded a statistically significant relationship between early TV exposure and later attention problems, with most of these employing problematic analytic choices. We conclude that these data do not provide compelling evidence of a harmful effect of TV on attention. All material necessary to reproduce our analysis is available online via Github and as a Docker container.(link)

Social networking sites (SNSs) have gained substantial popularity among youth in recent years. However, the relationship between the use of these Web-based platforms and mental health problems in children and adolescents is unclear. This study investigated the association between time spent on SNSs and unmet need for mental health support, poor self-rated mental health, and reports of psychological distress and suicidal ideation in a representative sample of middle and high school children in Ottawa, Canada. Data for this study were based on 753 students (55% female; Mage=14.1 years) in grades 7–12 derived from the 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey. Multinomial logistic regression was used to examine the associations between mental health variables and time spent using SNSs. Overall, 25.2% of students reported using SNSs for more than 2 hours every day, 54.3% reported using SNSs for 2 hours or less every day, and 20.5% reported infrequent or no use of SNSs. Students who reported unmet need for mental health support were more likely to report using SNSs for more than 2 hours every day than those with no identified unmet need for mental health support. Daily SNS use of more than 2 hours was also independently associated with poor self-rating of mental health and experiences of high levels of psychological distress and suicidal ideation. The findings suggest that students with poor mental health may be greater users of SNSs. These results indicate an opportunity to enhance the presence of health service providers on SNSs in order to provide support to youth. My reaction: Correlation or causation?

Heavy Social Media Use Linked With Mental Health Issues In Teens (source)

Cyberbullying seems to conform to typical bystander studies. (source)

Research finds Internet filters were not effective at shielding early adolescents from aversive online experience. (link)

There isn’t good evidence that typical Internet use harms the adolescent brain. (source)

Teens beliefs about risk are strongly influenced by other people. (source)

Violent video games don’t make you aggressive - difficult games do, says new study (source) Children who play video games for more than three hours a day are more likely to be hyperactive, get involved in fights and not be interested in school, says a new study. It examined the effects of different types of games and time spent playing on children’s social and academic behaviour. (source)

Older versus newer media and the well-being of United States youth: results from a national longitudinal panel. (source)

“Social Consequences of the Internet for Adolescents A Decade of Research” Abstract: Adolescents are currently the defining users of the Internet. They spend more time online than adults do, and they use the Internet for social interaction more often than adults do. This article discusses the state of the literature on the consequences of online communication technologies (e.g., instant messaging) for adolescents' social connectedness and well-being. Whereas several studies in the 1990s suggested that Internet use is detrimental, recent studies tend to report opposite effects. We first explain why the results of more recent studies diverge from those of earlier studies. Then, we discuss a viable hypothesis to explain the recent findings: the Internet-enhanced self-disclosure hypothesis. Finally, we discuss some contingent factors that may deserve special attention in future research. [source] WR: This is from 2009, needs an update.

Older versus newer media and the well-being of United States youth: results from a national longitudinal panel. Despite concerns that excessive use of new media is harmful to adolescent development, the findings reinforce previous conclusions that television detracts from academic performance and book reading supports it. Heavy use of the Internet and video gaming may be more a symptom of mental health problems than a cause. Moderate use of the Internet, especially for acquiring information, is most supportive of healthy development. (source)

The widespread use of digital technologies by young people has spurred speculation that their regular use negatively impacts psychological well-being. Current empirical evidence supporting this idea is largely based on secondary analyses of large-scale social datasets. Though these datasets provide a valuable resource for highly powered investigations, their many variables and observations are often explored with an analytical flexibility that marks small effects as statistically significant, thereby leading to potential false positives and conflicting results. Here we address these methodological challenges by applying specification curve analysis (SCA) across three large-scale social datasets (total n = 355,358) to rigorously examine correlational evidence for the effects of digital technology on adolescents. The association we find between digital technology use and adolescent well-being is negative but small, explaining at most 0.4% of the variation in well-being. Taking the broader context of the data into account suggests that these effects are too small to warrant policy change. (link) (link)

“In this paper, we provide the first quasi-experimental estimates of the impact of social media on mental health by leveraging a unique natural experiment: the staggered introduction of Facebook across U.S. colleges. Our analysis couples data on student mental health around the years of Facebook’s expansion with a generalized difference-in-differences empirical strategy. We find that the roll-out of Facebook at a college increased symptoms of poor mental health, especially depression, and led to increased utilization of mental healthcare services. We also find that, according to the students' reports, the decline in mental health translated into worse academic performance. Additional evidence on mechanisms suggests the results are due to Facebook fostering unfavorable social comparisons.” [SSRN]

In both SNS-usage analyses, greater time spent on SNS and frequency of checking SNS were associated with higher levels of depression with a small effect size. Further, higher levels of depression were associated with greater general social comparisons on SNS with a small to medium effect, and greater upward social comparisons on SNS with a medium effect. Both social comparisons on SNS were more strongly related to depression than was time spent on SNS. (link)

Pathological gaming may be a symptom of bigger problems, rather than a unique mental disease, suggests new Korean study. Those who felt they had overprotective parents and less parent communication had higher academic stress, which predicted lack of self-control and an increase daily gaming hours. (link)

Smartphone “addiction” doesn’t satisfy the criteria for addiction, according to new research: “In a sample of smartphone users, we measured three variables (mood, anxiety, and craving) on four occasions, which included a 24-hour period of smartphone abstinence. Only craving was affected following a short period of abstinence. The results suggest that heavy smartphone usage does not fulfill the criteria required to be considered an addiction.”

Overall, the evidence suggests that while young men have dramatically increased the amount of time they spend gaming over the past decade and a half, their decreasing levels of employment and labor force participation are more likely to result from changes in labor demand. (link)

Taking a break from social media “resulted in lower positive affect for active users and had no significant effects for passive users. This result is contrary to popular expectation, and indicates that SNS usage can be beneficial for active users.” [PLOS ONE]

Using a suite of outcomes from both surveys and direct measurement, we show that Facebook deactivation (i) reduced online activity, including other social media, while increasing offline activities such as watching TV alone and socializing with family and friends; (ii) reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization; (iii) increased subjective well-being; and (iv) caused a large persistent reduction in Facebook use after the experiment. We use participants' pre-experiment and post-experiment Facebook valuations to quantify the extent to which factors such as projection bias might cause people to overvalue Facebook, finding that the magnitude of any such biases is likely minor relative to the large consumer surplus that Facebook generates. (link)

When looking at sleep problems, we found that stress related to social media use was a better indicator of sleep problems than the amount of social media use. This seems to indicate that it is not social media use per se that is related to sleep problems, but rather whether adolescents feel stressed by their usage. (link)

PEW: Eight-in-ten blacks say social media help shed light on rarely discussed issues; the same share of whites say these sites distract from more important issues. [Pew]

Social network sites are ubiquitous and now constitute a common tool people use to interact with one another in daily life. Here we review the consequences of interacting with social network sites for subjective well‐being—that is, how people feel moment‐to‐moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. We begin by clarifying the constructs that we focus on in this review: social network sites and subjective well‐being. Next, we review the literature that explains how these constructs are related. This research reveals: (a) negative relationships between passively using social network sites and subjective well‐being, and (b) positive relationships between actively using social network sites and subjective well‐being, with the former relationship being more robust than the latter. Specifically, passively using social network sites provokes social comparisons and envy, which have negative downstream consequences for subjective well‐being. In contrast, when active usage of social network sites predicts subjective well‐being, it seems to do so by creating social capital and stimulating feelings of social connectedness. We conclude by discussing the policy implications of this work. [link]

Online Social Networking and Mental Health: During the past decade, online social networking has caused profound changes in the way people communicate and interact. It is unclear, however, whether some of these changes may affect certain normal aspects of human behavior and cause psychiatric disorders. Several studies have indicated that the prolonged use of social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook, may be related to signs and symptoms of depression. In addition, some authors have indicated that certain SNS activities might be associated with low self-esteem, especially in children and adolescents. Other studies have presented opposite results in terms of positive impact of social networking on self-esteem. The relationship between SNS use and mental problems to this day remains controversial, and research on this issue is faced with numerous challenges. This concise review focuses on the recent findings regarding the suggested connection between SNS and mental health issues such as depressive symptoms, changes in self-esteem, and Internet addiction. [NIH]

Taking a break: The effect of taking a vacation from Facebook and Instagram on subjective well-being by Sarah Hanley, Susan Watt & William Coventry Abstract: Social Networking Sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Instagram have relocated a large portion of people’s social lives online, but can be intrusive and create social disturbances. Many people therefore consider taking an “SNS vacation.” We investigated the effects of a one-week vacation from both Facebook and Instagram on subjective well-being, and whether this would vary for passive or active SNS users. Usage amount was measured objectively, using RescueTime software, to circumvent issues of self-report. Usage style was identified at pre-test, and SNS users with a more active or more passive usage style were assigned in equal numbers to the conditions of one-week SNS vacation (n = 40) or no SNS vacation (n = 38). Subjective well-being (life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect) was measured before and after the vacation period. At pre-test, more active SNS use was found to correlate positively with life satisfaction and positive affect, whereas more passive SNS use correlated positively with life satisfaction, but not positive affect. Surprisingly, at post-test the SNS vacation resulted in lower positive affect for active users and had no significant effects for passive users. This result is contrary to popular expectation, and indicates that SNS usage can be beneficial for active users. We suggest that SNS users should be educated in the benefits of an active usage style and that future research should consider the possibility of SNS addiction among more active users.

“How do information interventions affect individual efforts to expand social networks? We study a randomized controlled trial of a program providing information on settling in the U.S. for new immigrants from the Philippines. Improved information leads new immigrants to acquire fewer new social network connections. Treated immigrants make 16-28 percent fewer new friends and acquaintances and are 65 percent less likely to receive support from organizations of fellow immigrants. The treatment has no effect on employment, wellbeing, or other outcomes. Consistent with a simple model, the treatment reduces social network links more in places likely to have lower costs of acquiring network links (those with more prior fellow immigrants). Information and social network links appear to be substitutes in this context: better-informed immigrants invest less in expanding their social networks upon arrival. Our results suggest that endogenous reductions in acquisition of social network connections can reduce the effectiveness of information interventions.”

Positive emotional expressions on Facebook did not correlate with life satisfaction, whereas negative emotional expressions within the past 9-10 months (but not beyond) were significantly related to life satisfaction. (source)

Facebook Isn’t Actually A Good Way To Judge Potential Employees, Say Researchers (source) “Recruiter ratings of Facebook profiles correlate essentially zero with job performance,” write the researchers, led by Chad H. Van Iddekinge of FSU.

Research finds Internet filters were not effective at shielding early adolescents from aversive online experience. (link)


  • Moral judgments soften with time and distance, UCLA-led study shows (source):

    If so, then moral condemnation should be more severe when transgressions are recent and local, and should be sensitive to the pronouncements of authority figures (who are often arbiters of moral norms), as the fitness pay-offs of moral disapproval will primarily derive from the ramifications of condemning actions that occur within the immediate social arena. Correspondingly, moral transgressions should be viewed as less objectionable if they occur in other places or times, or if local authorities deem them acceptable. These predictions contrast markedly with those derived from prevailing non-evolutionary perspectives on moral judgement. Both classes of theories predict purportedly species-typical patterns, yet to our knowledge, no study to date has investigated moral judgement across a diverse set of societies, including a range of small-scale communities that differ substantially from large highly urbanized nations. We tested these predictions in five small-scale societies and two large-scale societies, finding substantial evidence of moral parochialism and contextual contingency in adults' moral judgements. Results reveal an overarching pattern in which moral condemnation reflects a concern with immediate local considerations, a pattern consistent with a variety of evolutionary accounts of moral judgement. My reaction: seems to confirm the moral arc / cirlcle theory of Singer. How might this apply to social media where people are expanding their social circles and able to quickly react? Does it not give people the time to cool off?


Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation: A Review of the Scientific Literature (link)

Research suggests that the ability of the president to influence public attention to issues and shape public opinion is limited. Recently, presidential efforts at persuasion have expanded to social media, but presidential persuasion has yet to be explored in this medium. We address two relevant questions. First, what effects does a presidential tweet have on public interest in the issue discussed in the tweet? Second, what effect does a presidential tweet have on public attitudes about that issue? To answer these questions, we utilize a natural experiment that occurred while we were fielding a nationally representative survey of American adults. Our analysis provides considerable evidence that presidential tweets can have the unintended consequence of driving the public away from the president’s position on an issue. Trump, Twitter, and Public Dissuasion: A Natural Experiment in Presidential Rhetoric

Is YouTube a pipeline for Alt-Right content? That is very difficult to find in research. From Kevin Munger & Joseph Phillips of Penn State: “But despite considerable energy, Ribeiro et al. (2019) fail to demonstrate that the algorithm has a noteworthy effect on the audience for Alt-Right content. A random walk algorithm beginning at an Alt-Lite video and taking 5 steps randomly selecting one of the ten recommended videos will only be recommended a video from the Alt-Right approximately one out every 1,700 trips. For a random walker beginning at a ‘control’ video from the mainstream media, the probability is so small that it is difficult to see on the graph, but it is certainly no more common than one out of every 10,000 trips.”

New study finds that a) democrats overestimate explicit prejudice among Republicans, and b) this overestimation increases perceptions that minority candidates are unelectable, which discourages dem votes for minority candidates. [PsyArXiv]

Misinformation is elite led: The Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University released a paper finding that misinformation about the risk of voter fraud was elite driven and through the mass media. Most importantly, they found that “social media plays a secondary role.” [source]

More than 300 studies have been published on the relationship between digital media and engagement in civic and political life. With such a vast body of research, it is difficult to see the big picture of how this relationship has evolved across time and across the globe. This article offers unique insights into how this relationship manifests across time and space, using a meta-analysis of existing research. This approach enables an analysis of a 20-year period, covering 50 countries and including survey data from more than 300,000 respondents. While the relationship may vary cross-nationally, the major story is the trend data. The trend data show a pattern of small, positive average coefficients turning into substantial, positive coefficients. These larger coefficients may be explained by the diffusion of this technology across the masses and changes in the types of use, particularly the rise of social networking sites and tools for online political participation. [source]

“These results suggest that there are a large number of party loyalists in the United States, that their claims to being a self-defined ‘conservative’ are suspect, and that group loyalty is the much more profound motivator of opinion than are any ideological principles.” [source]

New research finds those on the political extremes are more susceptible to conspiracy theories than moderates. [source]

Social media isn’t as bad as we might think: “Our results also showed that Facebook news use was related to a modest over-time spiral of depolarization.” (link)

“Attempts to introduce people to a broad range of opposing political views on a social media site such as Twitter might be not only ineffective but counterproductive,” researchers reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (link)

14% of Americans have changed their mind about an issue because of something they saw on social media. (link)

Pew has also found in surveys that it is rare for users to discuss, comment, or post about politics online. And those that do go online to discuss politics are nearly guaranteed to be more partisan and thus unlikely to change their position. Indeed, social media networks aren’t as ideologically homogeneous as some have worried. The echo chamber effect is overstated. Most political conversations arise in casual settings with acquaintances.

The New York Times, in an investigation of white supremacist members of, found that “the top reported interest of Stormfront members is reading.” That they are “news and political junkies.” Despite the fact that if “you come compare Stormfront users to people who go to the Yahoo News site, it turns out that the Stormfront crowd is twice as likely to visit”

Our results indicate that Twitter lowered the Republican vote share in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections, but had limited effects on Congress elections and previous presidential elections. Evidence from survey data, primary elections, and a text analysis of millions of tweets suggests that Twitter’s relatively liberal content may have persuaded voters with moderate views to vote against Donald Trump. [NBER]

Twitter users are D+15. The 10% of Twitter users who post 92% of all tweets are D+43. [Pew] [Pew]

According to Pew, active users of the social media platform spend most of their time tweeting about politics.

Twitter is the place where “the attentive public,” we strange few who devote most of our waking hours to politics, comes to hang out. It’s a modern salon, or at least the closest thing we’re going to get to one in our era of alienated and individualized politics.

Trolling people online is a sign of mental illness

  • “Internet trolls are narcissists, psychopaths, and sadists” Trolling correlated positively with sadism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism, using both enjoyment ratings and identity scores. Of all personality measures, sadism showed the most robust associations with trolling and, importantly, the relationship was specific to trolling behavior. Enjoyment of other online activities, such as chatting and debating, was unrelated to sadism. Thus cyber-trolling appears to be an Internet manifestation of everyday sadism. (source)
  • Teens who bully, harass, or otherwise victimize their peers are not always lashing out in reaction to psychological problems or unhealthy home environments, but are often using aggression strategically to climb their school’s social hierarchy, a University of California, Davis, study suggests. These findings point to the reasons why most anti-bullying programs don’t work and suggest possible strategies for the future. [paper]
  • A few people really do ruin the internet for everyone: this study of 1.8 billion Reddit comments shows 0.1% of all communities generate 38% of attacks on other reddits! (1% accounts for 74%!) And a few active users on those Reddits kick off the conflicts. [arxiv]
  • Online toxic behavior from a study of League of Legends: 1% of players are trolls, doing 5% of all toxic behavior, the rest from “average” players “having a bad day” Solution: fast ban abusive folks & give info on what to do better. 92% of them improve. [Nature]
  • Are trolls mentally ill? [Unherd]
  • Positive emotional expressions on Facebook did not correlate with life satisfaction, whereas negative emotional expressions within the past 9-10 months (but not beyond) were significantly related to life satisfaction. [source]
  • This study sought to understand trolling by examining the psychological predictors that motivate trolling behaviors, as well as perceptions of trolling among 438 Reddit users. A path analysis indicated the motivation of schadenfreude mediates the relationship between personality traits (i.e., the dark triad) and trolling. Outspokenness neither directly nor indirectly predicted trolling. Results also showed that Reddit users motivated by schadenfreude and users who exhibit trolling behaviors view trolling as not being a dysfunctional or undesirable response to online discourse. In addition, those with schadenfreude considered the practice of trolling to be functional/comprehensible. Those who merely observe trolling on Reddit did not consider trolling to be a functional part of online discourse. Age, time spent on Reddit, and the dark triad did not predict functional or dysfunctional perceptions of trolling, but gender played a role. [Sage]
  • Why are politics more toxic online than offline? Status-seekers are hostile online & offline, but their online attacks are more visible. Nice people do not go crazy online. We use representative surveys from the US and Denmark to document that people perceive online environments as more hostile than offline. In figure, higher values equals more perceived hostility and dark gray plots show distribution for “online debates”. A common narrative, the mismatch hypothesis, says this reflects a mismatch between (a) a psychology adapted for face-to-face interaction and (b) the impersonal online environment. We test 3 versions of this hypothesis: Mismatched-induced change, selection and perception. Do online environments induce hostility because nice people are less able to regulate their emotions online? No. People who report that they are hostile online also report that they are hostile offline. There are no differences across the two context. Are online environments hostile because the setting is attractive to those predisposed for hostility? No. Hostile people (e.g., status-obsessed individuals) talk about politics whenever they can. However, non-hostile people seem to opt out of online debates. Do people misinterpret benign intentions as hostile in online debates? No. When asked about own experiences, conflicts online & offline are perceived as equally severe. Using behavioural experiments, we also find no systematic bias in perceptions of SoMe posts. What then explains ‘the hostility gap’? Online environments do not turn nice people into trolls. Those who are mean to you online would be equally mean to you offline. Both online and offline hostility is driven by status concerns. Rather than psychological mismatches, the gap seems to reflect connectivity: that the public nature of online discussions exposes people to way more hostile attacks directed against strangers. Offline, these are hidden to the public eye. How to guard against online hate? It is not an ‘accident’ but a deliberate strategy pursued by status-driven people. While many do not personally fall victim to attacks, they are public, shaping overall perceptions. To reduce online hate, such people need to be contained.

The structure of social networks

Conversations on Twitter create networks with identifiable contours as people reply to and mention one another in their tweets. These conversational structures differ, depending on the subject and the people driving the conversation. Six structures are regularly observed: divided, unified, fragmented, clustered, and inward and outward hub and spoke structures. These are created as individuals choose whom to reply to or mention in their Twitter messages and the structures tell a story about the nature of the conversation. (source)

Mobile phone and Internet use, especially specific uses of social media, were found to have a positive relationship to network size and diversity. In discussing these trends, we speculate that specific social media provide for a “pervasive awareness” within personal networks that has increased the specialization of close ties. We argue that this same pervasive awareness provides for heightened surveillance of network members, the result of which is a higher level of perceived diversity within networks based on metrics that include political affiliation. (source)

The myth of the flat network:

  • “About 2 percent of those who start discussion threads attract about 50 percent of the replies,” said study author Itai Himelboim, assistant professor in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “So although we have this wide range and diversity of sources, only a few of them are actually attracting attention.” (source)

  • The Majority Illusion: “In some cases, the structure of the underlying social network can dramatically skew an individual’s local observations, making a behavior appear far more common locally than it is globally. We trace the origins of this phenomenon, which we call “the majority illusion,” to the friendship paradox in social networks. As a result of this paradox, a behavior that is globally rare may be systematically overrepresented in the local neighborhoods of many people, i.e., among their friends. Thus, the “majority illusion” may facilitate the spread of social contagions in networks and also explain why systematic biases in social perceptions, for example, of risky behavior, arise. Using synthetic and real-world networks, we explore how the “majority illusion” depends on network structure and develop a statistical model to calculate its magnitude in a network.” [arXiv]

  • From Jan 2015 to Feb 2017, the most prolific 0.01% and 0.1% of reddit commenters wrote 3% and 12% of all comments respectively [OC]

  • The 90-9-1 rule is a rule of thumb for internet communities: 90% of people lurk, 9% contribute a little, 1% do most of the work. It is true on Reddit, where 25% of the most popular subreddits are administered by four people; on Wikipedia (77% is written by 1% of users!) & others. [source]

  • 10 percent of Twitter users create 80 percent of tweets, study finds. [source]

  • From Noah Smith: NPR disabled comments on their website, after finding the following:

    I did find the numbers quite startling. In July, recorded nearly 33 million unique users, and 491,000 comments. But those comments came from just 19,400 commenters, Montgomery said. That’s 0.06 percent of users who are commenting, a number that has stayed steady through 2016.

    When NPR analyzed the number of people who left at least one comment in both June and July, the numbers showed an even more interesting pattern: Just 4,300 users posted about 145 comments apiece, or 67 percent of all comments for the two months. More than half of all comments in May, June and July combined came from a mere 2,600 users. The conclusion: NPR’s commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience.

  • Also from Smith: “A study by the Anti-Defamation League found that two out of three anti-semitic tweets sent in 2015 were sent by just 1600 accounts.”

We find that Spotify use displaces permanent downloads. In particular, 137 Spotify streams appear to reduce track sales by 1 unit. Consistent with the existing literature, our analysis also shows that Spotify displaces music piracy. Given the current industry’s revenue from track sales (\$0.82 per sale) and the average payment received per stream (\$0.007 per stream), our sales displacement estimates show that the losses from displaced sales are roughly outweighed by the gains in streaming revenue. In other words, our analysis shows that interactive streaming appears to be revenue-neutral for the recorded music industry. [EconBiz]

A group of psychologists in the Netherlands have discovered that we have a tendency to gradually close ourselves off when dating online. In other words, the more dating profiles people see, the more likely they are to reject them. (Link)

The effect of cell phones on violence: “The move away from turf-based dealing reduced violence principally through its effectson gangs, we propose. Simply put, as the turf lost its value, so did the turf war…Compared to 1990, homicides in 2000 were down by about 10,000 and back-of-the-envelop calculations suggest cell-phone mainstreaming can account for 1,900-2,900 of that decline.” [NBER]

Digitization has impacted firm profitability in many media industries by lowering the cost of copying and sharing creative works. I examine the effect of digital rights management (DRM) technology - a prevalent strategy used by firms in media industries to address piracy concerns - on music sales. To do this, I exploit a natural experiment,where different labels remove DRM from their entire catalogue of music at different times, to examine whether relaxing an album’s sharing restrictions increases sales. The decision to drop DRM is a label-level decision that is not correlated with the sales of any particular album in the catalogue before DRM removal. Specifically, I compare sales of similar albums with and without DRM before and after DRM removal. Using a large sample of albums from all four major record labels that includes multiple genres as well as hits and niche albums, I find that removing DRM increases digital music sales by 10%. However, relaxing sharing restrictions does not impact all albums equally; it increases the sales of lower-selling albums (i.e., the long tail) significantly (30%) but does not benefit top-selling albums. My results are consistent with theory that shows lowering search costs can facilitate the discovery of niche products. (link)

Education and technology

We draw on administrative data from the country of Colombia to assess differences in student learning in online and traditional on-campus college programs. The Colombian context is uniquely suited to study this topic, as students take a compulsory exit examination at the end of their studies. We can therefore directly compare performance on the exit exam for students in online and on-campus programs both across and within institutions, degrees, and majors. Using inverse probability weighting methods based on a rich set of background characteristics coupled with institution-degree-major fixed effects, our results suggest that bachelor’s degree students in online programs perform worse on nearly all test score measures (including math, reading, writing, and English) relative to their counterparts in on-campus programs. Results for shorter technical certificates are more mixed. While online students perform significantly worse than on-campus students on exit exams in private institutions, they perform better in SENA—the main public vocational institution in the country. [NBER]

The objective of this study was to assess how mental health is associated with (1) the time spent on the Internet, (2) the time spent on different Web-based activities (social media use, gaming, gambling, pornography use, school work, newsreading, and targeted information searches), and (3) the perceived consequences of engaging in those activities. [NIH]

More than 75 percent of online students enroll at an institution within 100 miles of their homes, according to recent research from The Learning House (and consistent across past surveys over time). A majority of online students visit campus to access services and support, or to attend events and in-person courses, in a true blending of online and in-person. Here is a good Sean Gallagher survey on the rise of on-line degrees.

Using a randomized experiment in a public Swiss university, we study the impact of online live streaming of lectures on student achievement and attendance. We find that (i) attending lectures via live streaming lowers achievement for low-ability students and increases achievement for high-ability ones; (ii) students use the live streaming technology only occasionally, apparently when random events make attending in class too costly, and (iii) offering live streaming reduces in-class attendance only mildly. These findings have important implications for the effective design of education policies. [source]

The pandemic has revived the longstanding debate about the effect of online versus face-to-face instruction on student achievement. The goal of this paper is to provide new evidence on the impact of online versus face-to-face instruction on student learning outcomes, using rich, transcript-level longitudinal data from a public university. We pay particular attention to eliminating selection bias by incorporating student and instructor fixed effects into the empirical analysis as well as to separate out the impact of online versus in-person education from COVID-19-related confounding factors. Our results indicate that students in face-to-face courses perform better than their online counterparts with respect to their grades, the propensity to withdraw from the course, and the likelihood of receiving a passing grade. However, our investigation also reveals that instructor-specific factors, such as leniency in grading or actions towards preventing violations of academic integrity, play a significant role in determining the studied relationship. Without accounting for these instructor-specific factors, the relationship is severely biased, causing one to mistakenly conclude that online instruction is better for student learning than face-to-face instruction. Our analysis further documents a rise in grades associated with COVID-19-triggered changes to student assessment policies embraced by universities as well as instructors adopting a more flexible approach to grading. While these developments led to an increase in grades for all students overall, those who began Spring 2020 in face-to-face courses appear to have benefitted more generously from them. Finally, an auxiliary analysis shows that living in neighborhoods with better broadband technology is associated with a larger increase in grades among students who had to switch from in-person to online instruction during COVID-19. This finding supports the argument that unequal access to technology might have caused learning disparities to get deepened during the pandemic. [NBER]

News, journalism, and fact-checking

The US is still among the least concentrated newspaper industries. (link)

A new paper finds that “News consumption on small screens may be less informative and mobilizing than news consumption on larger screens.” (link)

Crowd-Funded Journalism by Lian Jian & Nikki Usher Abstract: Crowd-funded journalism is a novel business model in which journalists rely on micropayments from ordinary people to finance their reporting. Based on analyses of the database of, a pioneering crowd-funded journalism website, we examine the impact of crowd-funded journalism on the news produced. We apply a uses and gratifications approach to study consumers' choices when they donate to crowd-funded journalism and find that consumers are more likely to donate to stories that provide them with practical guidance for daily living (e.g., stories about public health or local city infrastructure), as opposed to stories from which they gain a general awareness of the world (e.g., cultural diversity, or government and politics). We discuss the implications for the future of news.

“Despite its growing prominence in news coverage and public discourse, there is still considerable ambiguity regarding when and how fact-checking affects beliefs. Informed by theories of motivated reasoning and message design, a meta-analytic review was undertaken to examine the effectiveness of fact-checking in correcting political misinformation (k = 30,N = 20,963). Fact-checking has a significantly positive overall influence on political beliefs (d = 0.29), but the effects gradually weaken when using “truth scales,” refuting only parts of a claim, and fact-checking campaign-related statements. Likewise, the ability to correct political misinformation with fact-checking is substantially attenuated by participants’ preexisting beliefs, ideology, and knowledge. The study concludes with a discussion of the fact-checking literature in light of current gaps and future opportunities.” [source]

“Trust has long been considered an important factor that influences people’s relationship with news. However, the increase in the volume of information available online, together with the emergence of new tools and services that act as intermediaries and enable interactivity around the news, may have changed this relationship. Using Reuters Institute Digital News Report survey data (N = 21,524), this study explores the impact of individual trust in the news media on source preferences and online news participation behaviour, in particular sharing and commenting, across 11 countries. The results show that those with low levels of trust tend to prefer non-mainstream news sources like social media, blogs, and digital-born providers, and are more likely to engage in various forms of online news participation. These associations tend to be strongest in northern European countries, but are weaker elsewhere. Seeking alternative views and attempting to validate the credibility of news may be among the motivations behind these associations.” [source]

“What happens when news aggregators tailor their newsfeeds to include partisan news aimed at users with a known party preference? Relying on a custom-made news portal featuring real, timely articles, this study examines the influence of partisan news sources on participant headline exposure, clicks on news stories to read, and perceptions about the portal’s ability to reliably and comprehensively provide the most important news of the day. Over a period of 12 days, participants preferring either the Republican or Democratic party were randomly assigned to newsfeeds containing increased dosages of real news articles from sources supportive of the participant’s preferred party. Results demonstrate that partisan personalization can benefit a news aggregator by increasing usage and perceptions of its quality, while potentially harming society by decreasing attention to high-quality mainstream sources.” (Link)

This study investigates the impact of a free on-line repository of research articles on the diffusion of their ideas measured by the citation counts. The key questions that this paper answers are that: 1) does a free on-line repository of research articles increase the diffusion of their scholarly ideas?; 2) who benefits from the free access? By using a dataset from the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), an open repository of research articles, and employing a natural experiment that allows the effect of free access separate from other confounding factors such as quality differentials, early exposure, low search cost, and promotion effect, this study identifies the causal effect of free access on the citation counts. The natural experiment in this study is that a select group of articles is posted on SSRN at a time chosen by their authors’ affiliated organizations or SSRN, not by their authors. Using a difference-indifference method and comparing the citation profiles of the articles before and after the posting time on SSRN against a group of control articles published in the same journal and issue, I estimated that the free access increases the citation approximately by 10%. This effect is not, however, homogenous across all the articles. In the supply side, the boost in the citation is driven by the articles published in low-tiered journals before the online posting. The research articles authored by the scholars affiliated with top institutes tend to receive a boost from the online posting. In the demand side, the scholars in the developing countries appear to get more benefits from the free access to the posted articles than those in the developed countries do because the fraction of the citing authors from developing countries to the number of all authors increases after the cited articles are posted on SSRN. (link)

Filter bubbles research

  • Filter bubbles as a normative concern: “Leaky sensory gating, the propensity to filter out irrelevant sensory information, happens early, and involuntarily, in brain processing and may help people integrate ideas that are outside of the focus of attention, leading to creativity in the real world, said Darya Zabelina, lead author of the study, calling the finding impressive.” (source)

  • A major point of debate in the study of the Internet and politics is the extent to which social media platforms encourage citizens to inhabit online “bubbles” or “echo chambers,” exposed primarily to ideologically congenial political information. To investigate this question, we link a representative survey of Americans with data from respondents’ public Twitter accounts (N = 1,496). We then quantify the ideological distributions of users’ online political and media environments by merging validated estimates of user ideology with the full set of accounts followed by our survey respondents (N = 642,345) and the available tweets posted by those accounts (N ~ 1.2 billion). We study the extent to which liberals and conservatives encounter counter-attitudinal messages in two distinct ways: (a) by the accounts they follow and (b) by the tweets they receive from those accounts, either directly or indirectly (via retweets). More than a third of respondents do not follow any media sources, but among those who do, we find a substantial amount of overlap (51%) in the ideological distributions of accounts followed by users on opposite ends of the political spectrum. At the same time, however, we find asymmetries in individuals’ willingness to venture into cross-cutting spaces, with conservatives more likely to follow media and political accounts classified as left-leaning than the reverse. Finally, we argue that such choices are likely tempered by online news watching behavior. [source]

  • “Our analysis reveals that segregation into small, homogeneous groups can be a rational choice that maximizes the amount of information available to an individual. In fact, homophilic segregation can be efficient and even Pareto-optimal for society. Why is that? Our argument builds on the idea that people have not only different information, but also different preferences. These differences in preferences can prevent successful communication, because people do not want to reveal their information to those who are different, and distrust the motives of those who speak to them. It then becomes easier to exchange information in segregated, homogeneous cliques than in large crowds. Echo chambers, though they may cut off potential communication with a great number of people, make actual communication possible, and are hence useful for society.” That is from a new paper by Ole Jann and Christoph Schottmüller. I believe Jann is currently on the job market from Oxford this year. Here is their other paper on the economics of privacy. And from Schottmüller: “The quality of advice can be highest if the adviser’s competence is uncertain.”

  • How do networks generate externalities, such as spillovers or peer effects? Quantifying these externalities is challenging due to the endogeneity in network formation. I tackle this problem by exploiting local exogenous shocks on a small number of nodes in the network and investigate spillovers of attention on the German Wikipedia. I show how the link network between articles influences the attention that articles receive and how the additional attention is converted into content. Exogenous variation is generated by natural and technical disasters or by articles being advertised on Wikipedia’s start page. The effects on neighboring pages are substantial: They generate an increase in views of almost 100 percent and content generation is affected similarly. Aggregated over all neighbors, a view on a treated article converts one for one into a view on a neighboring article. My approach applies even if, absent network data, identification through partial overlaps in the network structure fails. It thus helps to bridge the gap between the experimental and social network literatures on peer effects. (link)

  • Poe’s law is an adage of Internet culture stating that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, it is impossible to create a parody of extreme views so obviously exaggerated that it cannot be mistaken by some readers for a sincere expression of the views being parodied.[1][3] The original statement, by Nathan Poe, read:[1] Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.

  • Why Echo Chambers Are Useful” by Ole Jann and Christoph Schottmüller

    Why do people appear to forgo information by sorting into “echo chambers”? We model a society in which information is dispersed and preferences are polarized. Segregation into small, homogeneous groups can then be individually rational and Pareto-efficient, as it maximizes the amount of communication that takes place. We examine the optimal communication structure and give sufficient conditions for when it is attainable through endogenous group formation. A major problem is that people tend to segregate inefficiently little. Using data from Twitter, we show several behavioral patterns that are consistent with the results of our model.

The impact of news feeds

  • Hard news constitutes just 1.3 percent of all the content on Facebook. For Facebook, the core product is clearly family content. Carving out news might be a good long term solution for Facebook simply because of the social baggage that it brings. [Medium]
  • Twitter’s algorithmic feed, compared to chrono feed, (1) reduces exposure to links, (2) increases source diversity, (3) slightly increases exposure to like-minded accounts, but NOT like-minded news links. Important new study that shows nuanced impact of ranking algorithms. [Medium]
  • “We find that the shutdown of Google News reduces overall news consumption by about 20% for treatment users, and reduces page views on publishers other than Google News by 10%. This decrease is concentrated around small publishers.” Link here.
  • As compared to a chronological Twitter timeline, Twitter’s algorithm appears to reduce exposure to external links, but increased source diversity, shifted topic exposure, and induced a slight echo chamber effect. [Medium] [Preprint] [Threadreader]

Fake news wasn’t as bad as everyone thought.

  • As Facebook’s General Counsel, Colin Stretch, said under oath before the Senate Judiciary, the totality of the Russian misinformation scheme “equals about four-thousandths of one percent (0.004 percent) of content in News Feed, or approximately 1 out of 23,000 pieces of content.”
  • Facebook Vice President of Ad Product Rob Goldman also thinks that swaying the election was not the main objective of Russia’s campaign. Since the majority of Russian ad spending occurred after the election, their goal seems to have been sowing discord, much as the NYT detailed.
  • In communication studies, there is a well supported theory known as the third-person effect. According to this theory, individuals believe that messages have greater effects on those outside of the group than either themselves or their own group members. This survey of nearly 1300 people suggests that the third party effect is live and well when it comes to fake news.
  • Most people who share false news stories online do so unintentionally, and that reminders about accuracy can modify their sharing habits. [Threadreader Unroll]
  • We study learning via shared news. Each period agents receive the same quantity and quality of first-hand information and can share it with friends. Some friends (possibly few) share selectively, generating heterogeneous news diets across agents akin to echo chambers. Agents are aware of selective sharing and update beliefs by Bayes’ rule. Contrary to standard learning results, we show that beliefs can diverge in this environment leading to polarization. This requires that (i) agents hold misperceptions (even minor) about friends' sharing and (ii) information quality is sufficiently low. Polarization can worsen when agents' social connections expand. When the quantity of first-hand information becomes large, agents can hold opposite extreme beliefs resulting in severe polarization. Our results hold without media bias or fake news, so eliminating these is not sufficient to reduce polarization. When fake news is included, we show that it can lead to polarization but only through misperceived selective sharing. News aggregators can curb polarization caused by shared news. [NBER]
  • Regular exposure to stereotypical news coverage creates racial bias, study finds. (source)
  • Exposure to elite discourse about fake news leads to lower levels of trust in media and less accurate identification of real news. So talking about fake news may affect your ability evaluate it. (link)
  • We examine the relationship between platform use and conspiracy theory beliefs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Relying on the concept of technological affordances, we theorize that variation across key features make some platforms more fertile places for conspiracy beliefs than others. Using data from a crossnational dataset based on a two-wave online survey conducted in 17 countries before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we show that Twitter has a negative effect on conspiracy beliefs—as opposed to all other platforms under examination which are found to have a positive effect. [Sage]
  • By analyzing third-party content on four social media platforms, we show that: (a) In contrast to conventional wisdom, mainstream sources contribute overall more to conspiracy theories diffusion than alternative and other sources; and (b) Platforms’ content moderation practices are able to mitigate the spread of conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, we locate issues regarding the timeliness and magnitude of content moderation, as well as that platforms filter significantly fewer conspiracy theories coming from mainstream sources. Given this, we discuss policy steps that can contribute to the containment of conspiracy theories by media sources, platform owners, and users. [Harvard]

First published Jun 1, 2021