Working Paper #5-2017
Online Exploration, Content Choice& Echo Chambers: An Experiment
Sagit Bar-Gill and Neil Gandal
In this experiment, we create an online search environment where users explore the TED Talks collection, and choose a talk to watch. As users search in this environment, they can separately control two search dimensions - topic and popularity. Furthermore, in topic-based searches, we randomly block/show popularity information. We ask: what types of users are most likely to get caught in a content echo chamber and what is the role of popularity information provision in facilitating echo chambers? Susceptibility to echo chambers is proxied by: (I) conducting little to no exploration in the search process, and (II) relying on popularity in content choice. We find that high levels of sociability and previous experience with similar content are associated with susceptibility to echo chambers. Opinion leadership, on the other hand, is associated with more exploration and lower reliance on popularity. Interestingly, popularity information provision increases opinion leaders’ popularity sorting, and thus raises the potential for content echo chambers.