Opposing opinions could make 'echo chamber' even tighter

Other political views on Twitter may make you more attached to your own.
New research shows that exposure to opposing political views on Twitter may actually cause us to double down on our own. (Pixabay)

Conventional wisdom suggests that being exposed to other political opinions on Twitter could open your mind to other political viewpoints, but new research shows that the opposite may be true.

Christopher Bail is a Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina and the director of the Polarization Lab there.
Chris Bail (Megan Mendenhall/Duke Photography)

His experimental research indicates that political views may actually become even more entrenched when someone's social media 'echo chamber' on Twitter is disrupted with opposing views.  

"The idea that's been kicking around out there," Bail told Spark host Nora Young, "is that if we could only listen to each other we might become more moderate. We really didn't see that."  

For the experiment, they recruited about 1,200 Republicans and Democrats to complete a survey about their political views. Following the survey, they offered half of the group financial incentives to follow a bot created for the study that retweeted messages from the other side, exposing them to messages from opinion leaders of the other party.

One month later, when those who followed the bot were surveyed again, they discovered that nobody became more moderate. They saw no difference among Democrats, but Republicans actually became substantially more conservative when they followed a Democratic bot.

Bail acknowledges that political polarization on Twitter and other social media could have something to do with the nature of social media itself.

"We don't want anybody to take away from our study that all attempts to reach across political divides are inherently doomed."

Bail thinks reducing political polarization on Twitter could require a gradual approach. "If you imagine you wake up one morning and all of the sudden your filter bubble has popped, you know it's not a pleasant experience," said Bail.

He suggests that Twitter could build a tool that would allow individual users to monitor whether they're being exposed to the same type of information repeatedly. "Research shows that if people have control over that information learning process that they're much more persuadable," Bail added.