PULLMAN, Wash.  – There has been a longstanding belief that, in today’s selective news environment, news viewers tend to get trapped in a “filter bubble” and only read and listen to news similar to their preferred topics and political viewpoints.

 “Not so,” says Michael Beam, assistant professor in The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. In two newly published articles about using personalized news systems, Beam found that users of news filtering systems tend to look beyond their beliefs and interests into news across a wide spectrum.

“What we believed about peoples’ use of online news filtering systems may be wrong,” he said. “Instead of using automated Web apps that filter information without users’ knowledge, people spend more time engaging in news from a variety of sources on diverse topics when they are given explicit control of their personalization systems.

“When users have control, these systems offer a reliable way to easily engage with personally relevant news information from a variety of perspectives,” he said. “In fact, people using personalized news systems online also tend to view more diverse offline news as well.”

In the March 2014 issue of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Beam and co-author Gerald Kosicki, associate professor in the School of Communication at The Ohio State University, find that people who use personalized news systems actually report viewing more categories and sources of news compared with other news readers, indicating that personalized news system use may not lead readers into a “filter bubble.”

The study looked at national survey data from U.S. adults.

In a forthcoming article in Communication Research, Beam tested personalized news system designs in an online election simulation experiment with a sample of Ohio adults. This study finds that personalized news system designers can minimize polarization effects by making careful design choices, including allowing users to be able to have control of their news preferences rather than using automated systems.

“When taken together, these studies indicate that personalized news systems may not lead to extensive political polarization and information isolation as has been predicted by some scholars,” said Beam. “However, system designers need to be mindful of algorithm choices when creating online news systems.”

An abstract of the article – “Personalized news portals: Filtering systems and increased news exposure.” Beam, M. A. & Kosicki, G. M. (2014), Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly – is available online at http://jmq.sagepub.com/content/91/1/59.abstract

An abstract of the article – “Automating the news: How personalized news recommender system design choices impact news reception.” Beam, M. A. (in press), Communication Research – is available online a http://crx.sagepub.com/content/early/2013/07/31/0093650213497979



Michael Beam, WSU Murrow College of Communication, 509-335-0051, michael.beam@wsu.edu