Facebook has conducted a study to defend itself from old arguments. In 2010, the social network conducted research to see who people associate most with most on Facebook. Strangely, more than a year later, Facebook has chosen to publish results of the study, which proves that “Facebook isn’t the echo chamber that some might expect” and that users tend to view more information from “friends” they don’t interact with much in real life than those they do. In other words, Facebook has released a study to prove how awesome it is at social networking.
“…we found that even though people are more likely to consume and share information that comes from close contacts that they interact with frequently (like discussing a photo from last night’s party), the vast majority of information comes from contacts that they interact with infrequently. These distant contacts are also more likely to share novel information, demonstrating that social networks can act as a powerful medium for sharing new ideas, highlighting new products and discussing current events. The research suggests that Facebook isn’t the echo chamber that some might expect – online social networks actually increase the spread of novel information and diverse viewpoints.”
The gist of the report is that most people have close groups of friends and a lot of times those friends know each other. These groups of friends tend to view more of the same Websites and share similar content, making them great friends, but not great for sharing information we don’t already know about. It shows that we’re many times more likely to share stories we hear about from “weak ties” in our News Feed than from those considered “strong ties” or close friends.
The study also argues that even if content you get from “weak ties” in your News Feed isn’t as good, most of us have far more “weak ties” than close friends on Facebook, so we end up sharing more information from those we don’t hang out with much than those we do.
If you’re confused as to the point of this study, you’re not alone. While some of the information is useful, it reads more like a proof paper about how well Facebook encourages diversity than an actual study. The conclusion is that even though we interact with our close friends more on Facebook, we are exposed to, and “like” more, information from our distant contacts because they share links and thoughts that are different from what we hear every day from our close friends. Also, if you have 200 Facebook friends, it’s likely that only 5-20 of those are really close friends, so the odds favor distant friends. There are more of them, after all.
It would be interesting to see how Facebook’s News Feed algorithms affect this diversity over time. The News Feed is designed to show you what you want to see. Has yours become an echo chamber?