Richard Fletcher has been leading an important line of empirical research for us in the last few years, giving evidence-based answers to a series of important questions around the implications of people’s increasing reliance on algorithmically-curated services like search engines and social media when accessing news.
The latest installment is a piece examining reliance on search engines, which we find drive what we call “automated serendipity” and (controlling for other factors) leads people to sources they would not have used otherwise.
Like our previous work on social media, in challenges widely held assumptions about the role of digital media. As in several other studies (e.g. this), we find no evidence of “filter bubbles” — if anything, the opposite.
Abstract and three key figures below and full article (open access) here.
Search engines are an absolutely central part of the web. Yet we know relatively little about how they shape news consumption. In this study, we use survey data from four countries (UK, USA, Germany, Spain) to compare the news repertoires of those who say they use search engines to search for news stories, and those that do not. In all four countries, and controlling for other factors, we show that those who find news via search engines (i) on average use more sources of online news, (ii) are more likely to use both left-leaning and right-leaning online news sources, and (iii) have more balanced news repertoires in terms of using similar numbers of left-leaning and right-leaning sources. We thus find little support for the idea that search engine use leads to echo chambers and filter bubbles. To the contrary, using search engines for news is associated with more diverse and more balanced news consumption, as search drives what we call “automated serendipity” and leads people to sources they would not have used otherwise.