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POLITICAL SCIENCE kind of content shared among a set of partisans,

which can include topic matter, framing, and
slant. These scores, averaged over websites,
Exposure to ideologically diverse capture key differences in well-known ideolog-
ically aligned media sources: is

news and opinion on Facebook aligned with conservatives (As = +.80), whereas
the is aligned with liberals
(As = –0.65) (additional detail and validation are
Eytan Bakshy,1*† Solomon Messing,1† Lada A. Adamic1,2 provided in the supplementary materials, sec-
tion S1.4.2). We observed substantial polariza-
Exposure to news, opinion, and civic information increasingly occurs through social media. tion among hard content shared by users, with
How do these online networks influence exposure to perspectives that cut across ideological the most frequently shared links clearly aligned
lines? Using deidentified data, we examined how 10.1 million U.S. Facebook users interact with with largely liberal or conservative populations
socially shared news. We directly measured ideological homophily in friend networks and (Fig. 1).
examined the extent to which heterogeneous friends could potentially expose individuals to The flow of information on Facebook is struc-
cross-cutting content. We then quantified the extent to which individuals encounter tured by how individuals are connected in the
comparatively more or less diverse content while interacting via Facebook’s algorithmically network. The interpersonal networks on Face-
ranked News Feed and further studied users’ choices to click through to ideologically discordant book are different from the segregated structure
content. Compared with algorithmic ranking, individuals’ choices played a stronger role in of political blogs (16); although there is clustering

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limiting exposure to cross-cutting content. according to political affiliation on Facebook,
there are also many friendships that cut across

ideological affiliations. Among friendships with
xposure to news and civic information is distinct Web links (URLs) shared by U.S. users individuals who report their ideological affilia-
increasingly mediated through online social over a 6-month period between 7 July 2014 and tion in their profile, the median proportion of
networks and personalization (1). Informa- 7 January 2015. We classified stories as either friendships that liberals maintain with conserva-
tion abundance provides individuals with “hard” (such as national news, politics, or world tives is 0.20, interquartile range (IQR) [0.09,
an unprecedented number of options, shift- affairs) or “soft” content (such as sports, enter- 0.36]. Similarly, the median proportion of friend-
ing the function of curating content from news- tainment, or travel) by training a support vector ships that conservatives maintain with liberals is
room editorial boards to individuals, their social machine on unigram, bigram, and trigram text 0.18, IQR [0.09, 0.30] (Fig. 2).
networks, and manual or algorithmic information features (details are available in the supplemen- How much cross-cutting content individuals
sorting (2–4). Although these technologies have tary materials, section S1.4.1). Approximately encounter depends on who their friends are and
the potential to expose individuals to more di- 13% of these URLs were classified as hard con- what information those friends share. If individ-
verse viewpoints (4, 5), they also have the po- tent. We further limited the set of hard news uals acquired information from random others,
tential to limit exposure to attitude-challenging URLs to the 226,000 distinct hard-content URLs ~45% of the hard content that liberals would be
information (2, 3, 6), which is associated with the shared by at least 20 users who volunteered their exposed to would be cross-cutting, compared with
adoption of more extreme attitudes over time (7) ideological affiliation in their profile, so that 40% for conservatives (Fig. 3B). Of course, individ-
and misperception of facts about current events we could accurately measure ideological align- uals do not encounter information at random in
(8). This changing environment has led to specu- ment. This data set included ~3.8 billion po- offline environments (14) nor on the Internet (9).
lation around the creation of “echo chambers” tential exposures (cases in which an individual’s Despite the slightly higher volume of conserv-
(in which individuals are exposed only to infor- friend shared hard content, regardless of whether atively aligned articles shared (Fig. 1), liberals
mation from like-minded individuals) and “filter it appeared in her News Feed), 903 million ex- tend to be connected to fewer friends who share
bubbles” (in which content is selected by algo- posures (cases in which a link to the content information from the other side, compared with
rithms according to a viewer’s previous behav- appears on screen in an individual’s News Feed), their conservative counterparts: Of the hard news
iors), which are devoid of attitude-challenging and 59 million clicks, among users in our study. stories shared by liberals’ friends, 24% are cross-
content (3, 9). Empirical attempts to examine We then obtained a measure of content align- cutting, compared with 35% for conservatives
these questions have been limited by difficul- ment (A) for each hard story by averaging the (Fig. 3B).
ties in measuring news stories’ ideological lean- ideological affiliation of each user who shared The media that individuals consume on Face-
ings (10) and measuring exposure—relying on the article. Alignment is not a measure of me- book depends not only on what their friends
either error-laden, retrospective self-reports or dia slant; rather, it captures differences in the share but also on how the News Feed ranking
behavioral data with limited generalizability—
and have yielded mixed results (4, 9, 11–15). Fig. 1. Distribution of ideolo-
We used a large, comprehensive data set from gical alignment of content
Alignment classification
Facebook that allows us to (i) compare the ideo- shared on Facebook mea-
logical diversity of the broad set of news and
Proportion of shares

0.03 Neutral sured as the average affilia-

opinion shared on Facebook with that shared Conservative tion of sharers weighted by
by individuals’ friend networks, (ii) compare this the total number of shares.
with the subset of stories that appear in indi- Content was delineated as
viduals’ algorithmically ranked News Feeds, and 0.02
liberal, conservative, or neutral
(iii) observe what information individuals choose on the basis of the distribution
to consume, given exposure on News Feed. We of alignment scores (details
constructed a deidentified data set that in- 0.01
are available in the supple-
cludes 10.1 million active U.S. users who self- mentary materials).
report their ideological affiliation and 7 million
Facebook, Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA. 2School of
Information, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA. −1 0 1
*Corresponding author. E-mail: †These
authors contributed equally to this work. Alignment score

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algorithm sorts these articles and what indi- cutting content: The risk ratio comparing the the News Feed (fig. S5)], we estimated the risk
viduals choose to read (Fig. 3A). The order in probability of seeing cross-cutting content rel- ratio comparing the likelihood that an individ-
which users see stories in the News Feed de- ative to ideologically consistent content is 5% for ual clicks on a cross-cutting content relative to
pends on many factors, including how often conservatives and 8% for liberals (supplemen- a consistent content to be 17% for conservatives
the viewer visits Facebook, how much they in- tary materials, section S1.7). and 6% for liberals, a pattern that is consistent
teract with certain friends, and how often users Individual choice futher limits exposure to with prior research (4, 17). Despite these tend-
have clicked on links to certain websites in ideologically cross-cutting content. After adjust- encies, there is substantial room for individuals
News Feed in the past. We found that after ing for the effect of position [the click rate on a to consume more media from the other side; on
ranking, there is on average slightly less cross- link is negatively correlated with its position in average, viewers clicked on 7% of hard content
available in their feeds.
Our analysis has limitations. Although the vast
Fig. 2. Homophily in majority of U.S. social media users are on Face-
self-reported ideologi- Conservative friends
book (18), our study is limited to active users who

cal affiliation. Propor- volunteer an ideological affiliation on this so-
Moderate friends
tion of links to friends of cial media platform. Facebook’s users tend to be
different ideological younger, more educated, and more often female
Liberal friends
affiliations for liberal, as compared with the U.S. population as a whole
moderate, and conserv- (18). Other forms of social media, such as blogs
ative users. Points indi- Conservative friends

or Twitter, have been shown to exhibit different
cate medians, thick lines patterns of homophily among politically inter-
indicate interquartile Moderate friends
ested users, largely because ties tend primarily to
ranges, and thin lines form based on common topical interests and/
Liberal friends
represent 10th to 90th or specific content (16, 19), whereas Facebook
percentile ranges. ties primarily reflect many different offline so-

Conservative friends cial contexts: school, family, social activities, and
work, which have been found to be fertile ground
Moderate friends
for fostering cross-cutting social ties (20). In ad-
Liberal friends dition, our distinction between exposure and
consumption is imperfect; individuals may read
the summaries of articles that appear in the News
0% 25% 50% 75% 100%
Feed and therefore be exposed to some of the
Percentage of ties articles’ content without clicking through.
This work informs long-standing questions
about how media exposure is shaped by our so-
cial networks. Although partisans tend to main-
Stage in media Potential from network Exposed Selected tain relationships with like-minded contacts
exposure process [which is consistent with (21)], on average more
than 20% of an individual’s Facebook friends
+ + + who report an ideological affiliation are from the
. . .
opposing party, leaving substantial room for ex-
+ + +
posure to opposing viewpoints (22, 23). Further-
more, in contrast to concerns that people might
- - - “listen and speak only to the like-minded” while
online (6), we found exposure to cross-cutting
content (Fig. 3B) along a hypothesized route:
traditional media shared in social media (4, 24).
Proportion of content 1/3 1/2 0/1
Perhaps unsurprisingly, we show that the com-
that is cross-cutting
position of our friend networks is the most impor-
tant factor limiting the mix of content encountered
Fig. 3. Cross-cutting content at in social media. The way that sharing occurs
Percent cross−cutting content

each stage in the diffusion pro- Viewer affiliation within these networks is not symmetric: Lib-
cess. (A) Illustration of how Conservative erals tend to be connected to fewer friends who
algorithmic ranking and individual Liberal share conservative content than are conserva-
choice affect the proportion of ideo- 40% tives (who tend to be linked to more friends who
logically cross-cutting content that share liberal content).
individuals encounter. Gray circles Within the population under study here, indi-
illustrate the content present at each vidual choices (2, 13, 15, 17) more than algorithms
stage in the media exposure process. (3, 9) limit exposure to attitude-challenging con-
Red circles indicate conservatives, tent in the context of Facebook. Despite the
and blue circles indicate liberals. (B) differences in what individuals consume across
Average ideological diversity of con- 20% ideological lines, our work suggests that individ-
tent (i) shared by random others uals are exposed to more cross-cutting discourse
(random), (ii) shared by friends in social media than they would be under the
(potential from network), (iii) actually Random Potential Exposed Selected digital reality envisioned by some (2, 6). Rather
appeared in users’ News Feeds from network than people browsing only ideologically aligned
(exposed), and (iv) users clicked on news sources or opting out of hard news alto-
(selected). gether, our work shows that social media expose

SCIENCE 5 JUNE 2015 • VOL 348 ISSUE 6239 1131


individuals to at least some ideologically cross- data for deriving the main results (tables S5 and S6); Python code SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS
cutting viewpoints (4). Of course, we do not and dictionaries for training and testing the hard-soft news
classifier; aggregate summary statistics of the distribution of Materials and Methods
pass judgment on the normative value of cross- ideological homophily in networks; and aggregate summary Supplementary Text
cutting exposure. Although normative scholars statistics of the distribution of ideological alignment for hard Figs. S1 to S10
often argue that exposure to a diverse “market- content shared by the top 500 most shared websites. The authors Tables S1 to S6
place of ideas” is key to a healthy democracy of this work are employed and funded by Facebook. Facebook did References (28–35)
not place any restrictions on the design and publication of this
(25), a number of studies have found that expo- observational study, beyond the requirement that this work was to 20 October 2014; accepted 27 April 2015
sure to cross-cutting viewpoints is associated with be done in compliance with Facebook’s Data Policy and research Published online 7 May 2015;
lower levels of political participation (22, 26, 27). ethics review process ( 10.1126/science.aaa1160
Regardless, our work suggests that the power
to expose oneself to perspectives from the other
side in social media lies first and foremost with
individuals. ECOPHYSIOLOGY

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WA 98195, USA. 2Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic
ACKN OW LEDG MEN TS levels, permitting critical activities such as feeding,
Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095,
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valuable feedback. The following code and data are archived in the University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
rate necessary for maintenance for a given species.
Harvard Dataverse Network, *Corresponding author. E-mail: †Present
LDJ7MS: “Replication Data for: Exposure to Ideologically Diverse address: Los Angeles Unified School District, Los Angeles, CA We analyzed data from published studies in
News and Opinion on Facebook”; R analysis code and aggregate 90085, USA. which hypoxia tolerance was determined at

1132 5 JUNE 2015 • VOL 348 ISSUE 6239 SCIENCE

Exposure to ideologically diverse news and opinion on Facebook
Eytan Bakshy et al.
Science 348, 1130 (2015);
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa1160

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