Nature Communications                          volume  12, Article number: 5580  (2021 )             Cite this articl

Neutral bots probe political bias on social media

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2022-06-22 20:30:06

Nature Communications volume  12, Article number: 5580 (2021 ) Cite this article

Social media platforms attempting to curb abuse and misinformation have been accused of political bias. We deploy neutral social bots who start following different news sources on Twitter, and track them to probe distinct biases emerging from platform mechanisms versus user interactions. We find no strong or consistent evidence of political bias in the news feed. Despite this, the news and information to which U.S. Twitter users are exposed depend strongly on the political leaning of their early connections. The interactions of conservative accounts are skewed toward the right, whereas liberal accounts are exposed to moderate content shifting their experience toward the political center. Partisan accounts, especially conservative ones, tend to receive more followers and follow more automated accounts. Conservative accounts also find themselves in denser communities and are exposed to more low-credibility content.

Compared with traditional media, online social media can connect more people in a cheaper and faster way than ever before. As a large portion of the population frequently use social media to generate content, consume information, and interact with others1, online platforms are also shaping the norms and behaviors of their users. Experiments show that simply altering the messages appearing on social feeds can affect the online expressions and real-world actions of users2,3 and that social media users are sensitive to early social influence4,5. At the same time, discussions on social media tend to be polarized around critical yet controversial topics like elections6,7,8, vaccination9, and climate change10. Polarization is often accompanied by the segregation of users with incongruent views into so-called echo chambers11,12,13,14,15,16, homogeneous online communities that have been associated with ideology radicalization and misinformation spreading17,18,19,20.

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