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Televised Debates, Second Screen, Filter Bubbles: Evidence from a German Lab and Survey Experiment

28. Februar 2018, 13:00 Uhr

GESIS, Mannheim, B2,8 (rechts)

Prof. Thorsten Faas


Joint work with Simon Richter:

Televised debates are regularly accompanied by an extensive coverage in social networks like Twitter. By following this live coverage, the reception of the debate is complemented through an additional social context, namely the (documented) views of other people concerning the debate and its protagonists. Generally speaking, these contexts are far from being balanced in terms of opinions viewers are confronted with. Instead, people are embedded in their idiosyncratic, personalized social networks, which might lead to biases or in other words: filter bubbles. This form of “social watching” is on the rise and provokes some important questions: Do these biased social network posts have an effect on the perception of the television debate? Is there an influence on the evaluation of the candidates? To dismantle the influence of “social watching” on the perception of a televised debate and to study the consequences of filter bubbles, the paper draws on a lab and a survey experiment. In both experiments, respondents were randomly allocated to groups, which were then treated with specific, but biased and real Twitter coverage while watching the most recent televised debate from Germany. The lab experiment was run as a live experiment on debate night using specifically programmed software. The live context secured a naturalistic environment for the participants while retaining full randomized experimental control. The survey experiment focused on the consequences of specific bias features, namely the role of candidate appraisal versus critique. Our results show conformity tendencies among the respondents in their respective evaluations of the candidates - even when controlling for political predispositions. Hence, filter bubbles do matter.

About the speaker

Thorsten Faas has studied political science at the University of Bamberg and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He received his PhD from the University of Duisburg-Essen in 2008, analyzing how individual and contextual experiences of unemployment affect political attitudes and voting behavior. He has worked as a research assistant at the University of Bamberg (2001-2003), Duisburg-Essen (2003-2008) and Mannheim (2008-2009). From 2009-2012, he held a position as a Junior Professor at the University of Mannheim, from 2012-2017 he was a professor of “Empirical Political Science” at the University of Mainz. He recently moved to the Free University of Berlin, taking on a position as a professor of “Political Sociology”.