Breaking Echo Chambers with Personalized News
48 Pages Posted: 7 May 2019 Last revised: 19 Jun 2020
Date Written: June 14, 2020
When a digital platform such as Google News selects personalized news for its user, will it select news that conforms to its user’s existing bias, thus creating an “echo chamber”? To answer this question, this paper studies a game between a click-maximizing platform and a user who tries to learn the true state of the world. This paper shows that, contrary to popular belief, it is optimal for the platform to select news that contradicts the user’s existing bias. This result stands in contrast with the bias of traditional media such as newspapers (Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2006; Suen, 2004) and this contrast is consistent with the recent empirical findings on online news consumption (Boxell, Gentzkow, and Shapiro, 2017; Gentzkow and Shapiro, 2011; Flaxman, Goel, and Rao, 2016). This paper shows that it is optimal for a platform to send its user news that opposes her current view for two reasons. On the one hand, the user prefers opposing news because she expects to learn more about the state of the world from it, even if she expects it to be less credible than the news that agrees with her views. On the other hand, by sending surprising news, the platform challenges the user’s belief about the true state and increases her demand to click for more information.
Keywords: media bias, personalized news, echo chambers
JEL Classification: C72, D83
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation