Behavioral Effects of Exposure to Political Content in Social Media

Grant Number: 
National Science Foundation
Total Award Amount: 
Date Range: 
01 Sep 2020 to 31 Aug 2023
Principal Investigators: 

Social media platforms have allowed a universe of alternative media to arise. These media create a network with millions of followers that are increasingly detached from mainstream outlets. This phenomenon has drawn much public attention because of its implications for social cohesion and democratic engagement. One platform, in particular, stands out in its ability to reach mass audiences while relying on distributed, networked forms of communication: YouTube is not only one of the most popular domains online, but also a place associated with niche content and dynamics of radicalization. This project will quantify the prevalence of political content on the platform; track audience engagement with that content; identify the pathways visitors follow to reach the universe of alternative media; and contextualize these dynamics in the broader frame of online exposure to political content, including the web and other social media platforms. Overall, the goal of this project is to produce evidence determining if social media, in general, and YouTube, in particular, are shifting how people access political information. This evidence can inform high-impact policy discussions on whether to regulate technology companies with business models that rely on selling users’ attention. The project also aims to provide evidence that can enrich discussions on the role algorithms play in directing audiences to content – a role once reserved to editors and professional journalists.