Economics

Fair and Balanced?

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Science  16 Dec 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6062, pp. 1475
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6062.1475-a

Has easy access to information via the Internet altered the exchange of goods in the marketplace of ideas? That is, when faced with virtually limitless choice, have consumers sampled more widely? Or have they gravitated toward news stories that confirm their worldviews? Gentzkow and Shapiro have computed the conservative/liberal composition of consumers of print, broadcast, and online media and also of those consumers' social networks. They find that segregation (in essence, the difference in goods chosen by conservatives versus liberals) is higher for online media than print or broadcast, but much lower than in one's social networks. They suggest that much of the discussion, in the media, about the consumption of media has focused on the tails of the distribution of goods offered for sale (e.g., foxnews.com or nytimes.com), whereas consumers are by and large more mainstream in their purchases. Furthermore, the consumers who do populate the online sites in those tails are in fact more avid readers of opposing views than the centrist user. In other words, most visitors to a strongly conservative site get their news from sites that are considerably less conservative, and the converse applies to liberal sites. One point to keep in mind, however, is that these findings refer to information consumed, which is not quite the same as beliefs held.

Quart. J. Econ. 126, 10.1093/qje/qjr044 (2011).

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