Reflections on the intersection of economics, history, politics, psychology and science

Readers, Not Algorithms, Are the Issue

There’s been a debate over the last few years about whether or not search algorithms cause readers to consume partisan or unreliable news and so distort their political beliefs and choices. The fear of this effect has led to demands in some quarters to regulate, somehow, online content providers.

This article is the first example I know of that attempts to study that question objectively. The results are surprising.

It turns out this is yet another example of “we have met the enemy, and he is us”. Readers, not algorithms, are the primary driver behind the news that gets consumed. Put another way, readers tend to seek out news which confirms their pre-existing beliefs, even if those beliefs are not yet “fully formed”.

They found another interesting result, too: “Participants who identified as strong Republicans were the most likely to engage with partisan and unreliable news.”

Food for thought.