Volume 5


Beyond Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers

The Integrative Potential of the Internet

Merja Mahrt

Berlin, 2019
DOI 10.17174/dcr.v5.0 (SSOAR) | ISBN 978-3-945681-05-3

Abstract: Are online audiences today fragmented into echo chambers or filter bubbles? Do users only see what digital platforms (like search engines or social media) let them see? And if so, what are the consequences for the cohesion of a society? Concerns like these abound in recent years. They attest to widely held assumptions about a negative influence of digital media or even the Internet in general on society. Empirical studies on these phenomena are, however, not as unequivocal. To understand why results from previous research are so far inconclusive, this study investigates the role of the Internet for social integration from a more general point of view.

The integrative potential of the Internet is assessed to compare it with other media and ultimately better understand to what degree and due to which factors the Internet may or may not help bring society together. Using survey data, clickstream data on actual usage of websites, and data on content structures, the present work investigates how user behavior and structural features of the Internet determine its positive or negative effects on social integration. The results reveal that the Internet in general is not as bad as popular accounts of digital fragmentation may suggest. How much integrative potential can be realized via online offerings, however, depends on numerous factors on the side of the users as well as content and platform providers.


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Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 A brief overview of the integrative functions of media
2.1 What makes media integrative
2.1.1 Media reach large audiences
2.1.2 Content (I): Media transport messages about social reality
2.1.3 Content (II): Media enable large public spheres
2.2 Integration at different levels of society
2.3 Fragmentation and other negative effects of television
2.4 Summary

3 Fears about a loss of integration due to the Internet
3.1 Technical properties of the Internet
3.2 Online content
3.3 Online use
3.4 Effects of online structures and use
3.5 Summary

4 Measurement of media effects on social integration
4.1 Conversation-related measures
4.2 Social integration as a characteristic of individuals
4.3 Fragmentation of audiences
4.4 Summary

5 How to analyze the integrative potential of the Internet
5.1 Open questions
5.2 Aim and scope of the study

6 Survey: Media use and social integration
6.1 Method
6.2 Relationships between media use and integration
6.2.1 Results
6.2.2 Summary and discussion
6.3 Online repertoires and types of users
6.3.1 Results
6.3.2 Summary and discussion

7 Analysis of clickstream data: Online use within platforms
7.1 Massively overlapping culture online?
7.2 Use of content items in different media
7.3 Research questions
7.4 Method
7.5 Results
7.5.1 Overlap of usage on Spiegel Online
7.5.2 Overlap of usage on YouTube
7.6 Summary and discussion

8 Content analysis: Online content structures
8.1 Content on Spiegel Online
8.2 Content on YouTube
8.3 Research questions
8.4 Method
8.5 Results
8.5.1 Content structure of Spiegel Online articles
8.5.2 Content structure of top 10 YouTube videos
8.6 Summary and discussion

9 Conclusion
9.1 The integrative potential of the Internet versus mass media
9.1.1 Online versus other content
9.1.2 Patterns of online usage
9.1.3 Summary: The dependence of integrative potentials on structures and user behavior
9.2 Limitations
9.3 Outlook


Appendix A: Questionnaire (Chapter 6)
Appendix B: Codebook for Spiegel Online content (Chapters 7 and 8)
Appendix C: Codebook for YouTube videos (Chapter 8)

Mahrt, M. (2019). Beyond filter bubbles and echo chambers: The integrative potential of the Internet. doi: 10.17174/dcr.v5.0

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