Project on Democracy and the Internet

Trust, Truth, and Selective Exposure to Partisan News

In partnership with
 

Overview

Many commentators have raised concern that Americans are increasingly exposed to news and information that confirms instead of challenges their pre-existing viewpoints. The goal of this project is to shed new light on the drivers of this demand for ideologically aligned news. One possibility is that our motivation to seek truth is outweighed by other implicit or explicit objectives, such as utility from having existing beliefs confirmed, from maintaining beliefs consistent with prior voting or other behavior, or from partisan “cheerleading.” Through these mechanisms, partisans may favor ideologically aligned sources over those they believe to be more accurate. In a world where people cared more about learning the truth, selective exposure would fall.
 
An alternative explanation is that we do care about the truth, but that we honestly believe that ideologically aligned sources are more accurate. Such beliefs are consistent with rational  inference. Through this mechanism, partisans choose ideologically aligned sources because they trust them. In a world where people cared even more about learning the truth, selective exposure would remain similar or could even increase. We combine experimental evidence and observational data to measure the importance of this latter mechanism–-trust and demand for accurate news–-in generating ideological segregation in online news consumption, and to understand how the market for news would change under counterfactuals with higher or lower demand for truth.
  • David Yang, Department of Economics, Stanford University
  • Hunt Alcott, Associate Professor of Economics, New York University