Selective Exposure in the Age of Social Media: Endorsements Trump Partisan Source Affiliation When Selecting News Online

Messing, Solomon; Westwood, Sean J.
Communication Research

Much of the literature on polarization and selective exposure presumes that the internet exacerbates the fragmentation of the media and the citizenry. Yet this ignores how the widespread use of social media changes news consumption. Social media provide readers a choice of stories from different sources that come recommended from politically heterogeneous individuals, in a context that emphasizes social value over partisan affiliation. Building on existing models of news selectivity to emphasize information utility, we hypothesize that social media’s distinctive feature, social endorsements, trigger several decision heuristics that suggest utility. In two experiments, we demonstrate that stronger social endorsements increase the probability that people select content and that their presence reduces partisan selective exposure to levels indistinguishable from chance.