Man with hands over ears

A new paper published by some Italian academics concludes that Facebook and Twitter segregate users into political “silos,” thus facilitating – or even creating – echo chambers.

From the summary:

Recent studies have shown that online users tend to select information adhering to their system of beliefs, ignore information that does not, and join groups – i.e., echo chambers – around a shared narrative. Although a quantitative methodology for their identification is still missing, the phenomenon of echo chambers is widely debated both at scientific and political level…

We infer the leaning of users about controversial topics – ranging from vaccines to abortion – and reconstruct their interaction networks by analyzing different features, such as shared links domain, followed pages, follower relationship and commented posts. Our method quantifies the existence of echo-chambers along two main dimensions: homophily in the interaction networks and bias in the information diffusion toward likely-minded peers. We find peculiar differences across social media. Indeed, while Facebook and Twitter present clear-cut echo chambers in all the observed dataset, Reddit and Gab do not. Finally, we test the role of the social media platform on news consumption by comparing Reddit and Facebook. Again, we find support for the hypothesis that platforms implementing news feed algorithms like Facebook may elicit the emergence of echo-chambers.

“Support” is of course not “proof.” However, if it is true that people choose news that fits their views then it makes sense that platforms that feed people what they prefer to read, such as Facebook and Twitter, will attract more users than sites like Gab, which show you everything. (The winner-take-all effect of social media markets is the real problem, however.)

I also want to point out that, while Reddit may not have “echo chambers,” they engage in censorship quite openly. Gab does not. However, Gab is currently mostly right-wing content, as best I can tell. (Although, “right-wing” is a huge bucket, and the content varies widely.) My guess is that left-leaning users currently aren’t concerned with censorship (since they’re not the ones being censored… yet) and so are not out in force on Gab.

The founder of Gab, Andrew Torba, outlines his philosophy on “free speech” on the site’s home page, and tells of the persecution his company has faced from the “mob” for refusing to censor certain views:

Like many of you I watched this past week as cities were burned to the ground, businesses were looted, and endless violence was aimed at law enforcement and innocent people that got in the mob’s way. There were tens of thousands of social media posts on Big Tech platforms calling for violence against the police, for businesses and neighborhoods to be set ablaze, and for historical monuments to be destroyed. Calls for violence were not only allowed on Big Tech platforms, these posts were given the opportunity to flourish.

At Gab we refuse to bow to the mob. We refuse to submit to the system. We’ve proven this time and time again over the last three years and we’ve certainly paid the price for doing so. We’ve been smeared by the media endlessly, banned from App Stores, no-platformed by dozens of services, and more. Yet thanks to our community and the tenacity of our great team we are still standing, growing, and thriving.

I don’t necessarily buy his message when he starts talking about “freedom” and especially “truth.” I am a little more clear-eyed on the nature of human power relations than that. (What is “truth,” outside of finite systems of logic or mathematics? I never get a satisfactory answer on this question, from people that brandish the word.)

But Gab is a good site; I can recommend it, if you like censorship-free content. They have a trending news aggregation page at

Gab also does not require “real ID.” Requiring real ID is just another form of suppression. What is the purpose of demanding identity as a condition of speech, except to persecute, intimidate or harass? I can think of none. “Civility” is not the reason. The standard narrative about online anonymity leading to rudeness or abuse has been debunked.

hate speech zone

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