Optimizing whose engagement? Beliefs and protest participation of social media users in South Korea


Appeared In: AI and Ethics

Publication Date: July 19, 2023

Algorithms that aim to maximize engagement increase the exposure of sensational news on social media and create an echo chamber effect, where like-minded people share and are exposed to similar news. Recently, controversial news with little to no factual support has been proliferating and such news has spread widely via social media. Moreover, social media have increasingly become the key platform to mobilize political protests. With social media playing an increasingly important role in distributing news and coordinating protests, understanding how it might influence political outcomes has become critical in modern societies.

This paper contributes to the literature by examining how polarized beliefs and belief rigidity in controversial news interact with social media use and protest participation. Using the news and events surrounding the impeachment of the former South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Lee finds that individuals who use social media as their primary source of news are significantly more polarized in their ideological views, and rigid in their beliefs in controversial news. Those who strongly believe in controversial news and are more consistent or extreme in their ideological views are more likely to participate in (more) protests. Moreover, this pattern is significantly stronger for those who primarily get their news from social media. The findings of this paper illuminate one potential mechanism by which social media may influence political outcomes—the selection of people with more rigid and polarized beliefs into social media and protests.

Lee, Y.S. Optimizing whose engagement? Beliefs and protest participation of social media users in South Korea. AI Ethics (2023). DOI: 10.1007/s43681-023-00322-4

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