Program on Democracy and the Internet

Examining the Impact of Repeated Exposure to Polarizing Content

In partnership with


Polarization of western democracies has emerged as a primary goal of the Russian government’s online information operations. A divided society results in a divided government that represents a reduced threat as perceived by the current Putin lead regime. A primary means for exacerbating political division in society is the online sharing of provocative information strategically designed to be both memorable and emotionally charged. While utilized extensively by Russian operatives, other authoritarian regimes are undoubtedly learning lessons based on the Russian tactics and refining their information capabilities as a result. In short, this scourge shows no signs of abating. It is prudent to investigate all elements of this behavior including an attempt to determine the potential impact that the continuous bombardment of polarizing information can have on members of an online community over an extended period.

This research will develop sanitized tests for paid participants in order to understand how random segmentation of individuals into disparate groups and then exposing the population to information changes alters the long run position of the population. Participants will be initially screened to remove individuals with any prior opinions on Position A or Position B. The remaining population is judged to be unbiased as it pertains to the policy issue in question. Next, the entire population is presented with information that is either positive, negative, or neutral concerning the policy positions. After each information exposure, the belief of each participant is reassessed. This is continued until the conclusion of the experiment. Multiple variations of this experiment will be explored and documented.


Travis Trammell, PhD Student, Management Science & Engineering, Stanford University