SODAS Lecture: The Political Effects of Social Media Affordances


‘The Political Effects of Social Media Affordances: Evidence from the US 2020 Facebook and Instagram Election Study’



Do social media platforms create echo-chamber environments that exacerbate political polarization? Do resharing features contribute to the spread of harmful content? And how do feed ranking algorithms contribute to both of these processes? In this talk, I provide new evidence regarding these questions based on the first four published studies within the U.S. 2020 Facebook and Instagram Election Study, a partnership between Meta researchers and external academics to understand the impact of Facebook and Instagram on key political attitudes and behaviors during the US 2020 elections. These first four papers include a series of experiments that manipulated key platform features for a set of participants to explore subsequent effects on polarization, knowledge, and attitudes towards democracy; as well as analysis of aggregated data for all Facebook adult users in the US. I will also provide an overview of the project, which followed the principles of independence, transparency, and consent; and which took important steps to ensure its scientific integrity, such as pre-registration of analysis plans, no pre-publication approval by Meta, IRB review, and the release of data required to enable replication.


Pablo Barberá is a Research Scientist in Meta's Computational Social Science team and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Southern California. He received his PhD in Political Science from New York University, where he was affiliated with the Social Media and Political Participation lab and the Center for Data Science. Prior to joining Meta, he was an Assistant Professor of Computational Social Science in the Methodology department at the London School of Economics. His research combines computational methods and the use of social media data to examine the impact of digital technologies on political behavior and public opinion.