Most Twitter users don’t follow political elites and they are much more likely to follow celebrities than an elected official, suggest researchers.
Despite the prominence and impact of presidents, congressmen, journalists, pundits and the news media, researchers found that only 40 per cent of Twitter users follow one or more political “elites” and the remaining 60 per cent follow no political actors at all, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances.
“Those users who do follow political accounts on Twitter, however, stick to insular online communities and mostly follow and share information from their political in-group,” said Magdalena Wojcieszak, lead author and professor of communication at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Amsterdam.
In other words, speaking to ongoing debates about so-called “echo chambers” on social media platforms, the small group of users who do follow political elites display clear political biases and engage with these elites in a very one-sided way.
The findings come after researchers analysed four years’ worth of data from a sampling of 1.5 million Twitter users.
Researchers concluded that even though the group of social media users who display political biases in their online behaviours is small, it is nevertheless consequential.
“Given that we analysed over 2,500 American political elite accounts including Donald Trump, Joe Biden, prominent pundits including Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity, and the most popular media outlets such as MSNBC and Fox News, the fact that only 23 per cent of the representative sample of over 1.5 million users follow three of more of such elite accounts is revealing,” Wojcieszak informed.
The research also reveals important ideological asymmetries: conservative users are roughly twice as likely as liberals to share in-group versus out-group content, as well as to add negative commentary to out-group shares.
“Overall, the majority of American Twitter users are not sufficiently interested in politics to follow even a single political or media elite from our list,” Wojcieszak said.
Given a growing radicalisation in America, decreasing support for democratic norms, and rising support for political violence, concerns about political biases on social media platforms are valid, no matter how small the groups displaying those biases may be.