Is There an Echo In Here?

Does the Internet, specifically services like Facebook and Google, narrow or broaden the scope of news and information that you encounter on the Internet? At issue are algorithms that sort and help to select information that you want from the googles of information out there. One of these, that used by Facebook, is called EdgeRank. Underlying all of this is a big question about online social networks, whether online or face-to-face: do your social circles amplify your own views if your friends share information that you are already in the mood to see—i.e., do they create an echo chamber&mdashor do they help you to see new things (and in new ways)?

A new study published by a team at Facebook, led Eytan Bakshy (a colleague and graduate of UMSI), says no. Summarizing the study in slate.com, Farhad Manjoo writes:

Although we’re more likely to share information from our close friends, we still share stuff from our weak ties—and the links from those weak ties are the most novel links on the network. Those links from our weak ties, that is, are most likely to point to information that you would not have shared if you hadn’t seen it on Facebook. The links from your close ties, meanwhile, more likely contain information you would have seen elsewhere if a friend hadn’t posted it. These weak ties “are indispensible” to your network, Bakshy says. “They have access to different websites that you’re not necessarily visiting.”