Filter Bubbles, Alternative News and Political Polarization

Research question/goal: 

This project addressed the overarching research question of how alternative media and news media influence individuals’ political attitudes. In a series of studies, we developed a novel methodology based on contextual word embeddings to get a better understanding of news media content and news media consumption patterns. We then integrated this method with longitudinal data analysis techniques to understand the effects of news media on consumers.

In a first study we developed a methodology to extract interpretable measurements of news media consumption from web browsing data using Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT). This technique offers a practical means for researchers, especially political scientists and communication experts, to assess online news content exposure. Our findings demonstrate that BERT can effectively estimate contextual word embeddings from textual data, facilitating the measurement of news media consumption through digital traces.

In a second study, we conducted a longitudinal analysis during  the 2021 German federal election, combining three waves of panel survey data and online behaviour records. We explored the influence of exposure to populist alternative news websites on individuals’ political trust, attitudes towards democracy, and key political issues. We found that alternative media outlets often framed environmental news in political terms, although their short-term impact on individual attitudes was limited and mixed.

In a third study, we investigated how alternative media outlets cover environment-related topics during the 2021 German federal election campaign. Our approach included detecting environmental news, identifying latent topics, and assessing the impact of alternative news consumption on individuals’ climate attitudes. The analysis revealed that changes in populist alternative news media consumption led to specific attitudinal shifts, notably affecting satisfaction with democracy and environmental protection. Furthermore, individuals with higher alternative news consumption exhibited lower media and political trust and more populist attitudes.

In conclusion, this project advances our understanding of how alternative media and news media collectively influence political attitudes. These insights contribute to our knowledge of media exposure, political behaviour, and their implications for democratic societies.

Fact sheet

Baden-Württemberg Stiftung
2021 to 2023
Data Sources: 
Survey data, web-tracking data
Geographic Space: