Beyond Filter Bubbles and Echo Chambers: The Integrative Potential of the Internet
ISSN der Zeitschrift
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.