Gab’s ‘echo chamber’ blamed for fomenting Capitol riots, but study points fingers at Facebook and Twitter

Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Gab were compared in the study which found that while Facebook and Twitter are dominated by echo chambers in all the observed dataset, Reddit and Gab are not


                            Gab’s ‘echo chamber’ blamed for fomenting Capitol riots, but study points fingers at Facebook and Twitter
(Getty Images)

In a new study by Italian researchers that compares the phenomenon of "echo chambers" in four different social media platforms found that while Facebook and Twitter's algorithms do encourage the silo-effect in newsfeeds to create echo chambers for news and information, platforms like Gab and Reddit are less likely to see this phenomenon.

The study has researchers from Italy's National Research Council's Institute for Complex Systems, Institute for Scientific Interchange, University of Brescia and Ca' Foscari University of Venice. The paper defines 'echo chambers' to be "based on the coexistence of two main ingredients: (i) opinion polarization with respect to a controversial topic, and (ii) homophilic interactions between users, i.e., the preference to interact with like-minded peers."

Why were Gab, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit chosen?

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (Getty Images)

The comparative analysis takes four major social media platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and Gab. There is a reason why these four platforms were chosen. Reddit and Gab have been less intensely studied than Facebook and Twitter. While they all share some characteristics and functionalities like allowing social feedback actions such as likes or upvotes, of design (Gab is similar to Twitter for instance), there are distinct differences. Reddit is organized in communities of interest called subreddits.

The paper described Gab as "relatively different" from the mainstream platforms. This is because its claim to be a social platform aimed at "protecting free speech together with the political leaning of its developers, made Gab the 'safe haven' for the alt-right movement". The paper added that "low moderation and regulation" of content has resulted in "widespread hate speech".

These reasons made each of the platforms "particularly interesting for investigation". The paper's findings "suggest that platforms organized around social networks and with algorithms accounting for social feedback may increase polarization and favor the emergence of echo chambers". 

What do results show?

The results of the study stated that while Facebook and Twitter are dominated by echo chambers in all the observed dataset, Reddit and Gab are not.

"We perform[ed] a direct comparison of news consumption on both Reddit and Facebook. We found support for the hypothesis that platforms organized around social network and with news feed algorithms which take into account users’ preferences foster the emergence of echo-chambers," the paper stated. The study looked for "the presence or absence of echo-chambers" across the four social media platforms, selecting one data set for each social media — abortion for Twitter, vaccines news and views for Facebook, politics on Reddit and studied Gab as a whole.

However, the study did not mention how it had accounted for Gab primarily catering to people with alt-right affliations with very few left-leaning individuals signing up for the service, making it more likely that similar-minded people would sign up to the service in the first place, while Reddit, Facebook and Twitter attracted people across affliations because they are more mainstream platforms.

Gab cites study and says it will make "legacy media irrelevant"  

However, Gab's Twitter handle has been tweeting the study to prove that news reports that quoted experts saying Gab and Parler "helped create echo chambers for violence and extremist views" was false. The Gab's official handle also denied that it had provided a platform for some of the coordination of the January 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.

Gab Founder Andrew Torba, right, with his wife Emily Torba (news.gab.com)

"Here is a third-party study that shows Gab is not an echo chamber, but Twitter and Facebook are: https://arxiv.org/pdf/2004.09603.pdf… 2. There is zero proof that any coordination for the Capitol protest happened on our platform. Zero," said the Gab's tweet.



 

Another tweet from the account also stated that it was going to make "legacy media irrelevant" and quoted some statistics for the plaform like "Visits this week: 46 million Page views this week: 80 million Sign ups in the last 48 hours: 1 million."



 

Earlier, the account sent out a cryptic tweet early on January 12 with a picture of a satellite in Earth’s orbit with the words "Call me, Elon” written in green and an accompanying caption, “it needs to happen. @ElonMusk".



 

The tweet has prompted speculation about the potential of Musk, now the richest man on earth, deciding to enter the business of social media.

If you have a news scoop or an interesting story for us, please reach out at (323) 421-7514