New game can help users identify, avoid echo chambers online


UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – Every day, social media users are exposed to fake news and political polarization on social media. What makes people vulnerable to believing false information they find online?

According to researchers at the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, users can easily fall into an echo chamber – a sort of online rabbit hole through which users consume only one-sided political information and arguments. , ending up being wary of any opposing point of view. To combat this phenomenon, researchers have developed a new tool that applies psychological concepts to help individuals become more aware and responsive to an echo chamber effect.

The tool, a game named ChamberBreaker, is a theory-based game that allows a player to test their own awareness of content that could lead to echo chambers and observe how they are accelerated by the spread of fake news. . Their goal is to help gamers resist echo chambers in the future, and ultimately reduce the rate of fake news being spread.

“As people who fall into an echo chamber tend to consume the information they want to see, whether and to what extent the information is the same as their belief is generally more important than the credibility of the information.” said Kyungsik Han, associate professor at Hanyang University in Korea, who received his doctorate from Penn State College of IST and is the corresponding author of the research paper. “This indicates the need for research into how to help people fundamentally understand an echo chamber and feel the negative consequences.”

“We all tend to conform and agree with the opinion of the group. Therefore, people naturally come together with like-minded others, ”said Dongwon Lee, professor of information science and technology at Penn State and one of the authors of the article. “But if you’re not careful and thinking critically, there’s a high risk of someone falling into an echo chamber. Hopefully in the future, this kind of tool will help people learn some kind of online hygiene, similar to washing hands to protect themselves from illness. “

Lee added, “Ultimately, the success of fake news research is based on how people perceive the information and how they change their behavior as a result. No matter how accurate the AI-based fake news detectors are, at the end of the day, if users don’t accept and change their behavior, then nothing will work. “

In ChamberBreaker, a player is tasked with trying to misinform the audience in the hopes of bringing community members to an echo chamber. To begin with, the player is randomly assigned a storyline that focuses on a health, political, or environmental issue, and is presented with six tweets on that topic. Next, the player selects tweets that might knock the other members down into an echo chamber while maintaining their trust.

The player can monitor their efforts through two gauges on the ChamberBreaker interface – one which tracks the community echo chamber effect and one which measures the reliability or credibility of the player. The objective is for the player to keep both gauges above a certain threshold. If successful, community members will fall into an echo chamber and the player will witness the resulting negative effects on the community. The player then receives a score after each scenario.

ChamberBreaker’s new design is based on three psychological theories, including the concept of inoculation, through which researchers suggest that mental antibodies against misinformation (bottom) can be obtained in the same way as in biology, when a human body creates an antigen after being vaccinated with a weakened dose of a virus (top).

The original design of ChamberBreaker is based on three psychological theories. First, through the concept of inoculation, the researchers suggest that mental antibodies against disinformation can be obtained in the same way that a human body creates an antigen after being vaccinated with a weakened dose of a virus. That is, just like a virus, if left unchecked, disinformation can quickly spread through networks from person to person. While inoculation theory has been applied to other social science issues, such as climate change and political topics, ChamberBreaker is the first outreach tool that uses it against the chamber effect. echo.

Second, researchers are studying the impact of heuristics on judging – the process humans go through to make a quick decision with limited information – and how that could cause a user to fall into an echo chamber. In ChamberBreaker, a player can observe the negative effects of these quick and less informed decisions.

Finally, ChamberBreaker applies gamification, which uses rewards like scores and badges to encourage players to complete a task. This approach could improve users’ self-awareness, increase participation, and help users recognize problematic behaviors more easily, the researchers said.

According to Aiping Xiong, assistant professor of information science and technology at Penn State and co-author, many users enter an echo chamber without ever realizing it.

“Fake news is not a new phenomenon,” Xiong said. “In fact, as human beings we have seen it over and over again throughout history; it is an age-old problem. Therefore, this indicates that there are fundamental cognitive mechanisms that play a role.

Once ChamberBreaker was developed, the researchers tested it to see if the tool would help gamers become more aware of the echo chamber effect and change their news consuming behaviors after playing the game. Groups of over 800 participants each responded to a survey to indicate their current behaviors related to online information consumption. Next, one group was invited to play ChamberBreaker while the other was invited to read information about Echo Chambers and review sample tweets and storylines used in the game. Both groups then filled in. another survey to predict their future behaviors when reading news online.

The researchers found that those who played ChamberBreaker were much more likely to express their intention to observe information online from more diverse angles and showed increased awareness of the echo chamber phenomenon. In particular, players over 50 and those with a pro-liberal stance showed the most significant changes compared to the other corresponding groups. These results were all statistically significant.

“Our methodology has been found to be useful in helping people realize the importance of information diversity and the characteristics of echo chambers, as well as in educating people to become healthier information consumers.” , said Youngseung Jeon, lead and lead author of the article.

Ultimately, the researchers hope that their methodology can be applied to other research dealing with issues related to information consumption.

Bogoan Kim from Hanyang University is an additional co-author. The work will be published in the October 2021 Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Collaborative Computer Assisted Work.

The research was funded by MSIT (Ministry of Science and ICT), Korea, under the program (2019-0-01584, 2020-0-01523) supervised by IITP (Institute for Information & Communications Technology Planning & Evaluation) and the NRF (National Research Foundation) program (2020R1F1A1076129). Part of Penn State’s work was funded in part by the National Science Foundation.

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