DOI: 10.1126/science.abp9364 ISSN: 0036-8075

How do social media feed algorithms affect attitudes and behavior in an election campaign?

Andrew M. Guess, Neil Malhotra, Jennifer Pan, Pablo Barberá, Hunt Allcott, Taylor Brown, Adriana Crespo-Tenorio, Drew Dimmery, Deen Freelon, Matthew Gentzkow, Sandra González-Bailón, Edward Kennedy, Young Mie Kim, David Lazer, Devra Moehler, Brendan Nyhan, Carlos Velasco Rivera, Jaime Settle, Daniel Robert Thomas, Emily Thorson, Rebekah Tromble, Arjun Wilkins, Magdalena Wojcieszak, Beixian Xiong, Chad Kiewiet de Jonge, Annie Franco, Winter Mason, Natalie Jomini Stroud, Joshua A. Tucker
  • Multidisciplinary

We investigated the effects of Facebook’s and Instagram’s feed algorithms during the 2020 US election. We assigned a sample of consenting users to reverse-chronologically-ordered feeds instead of the default algorithms. Moving users out of algorithmic feeds substantially decreased the time they spent on the platforms and their activity. The chronological feed also affected exposure to content: The amount of political and untrustworthy content they saw increased on both platforms, the amount of content classified as uncivil or containing slur words they saw decreased on Facebook, and the amount of content from moderate friends and sources with ideologically mixed audiences they saw increased on Facebook. Despite these substantial changes in users’ on-platform experience, the chronological feed did not significantly alter levels of issue polarization, affective polarization, political knowledge, or other key attitudes during the 3-month study period.

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