Ideology and Online News

Search and Advertising, Media and Content, Internet and Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing

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Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro


Chapter in NBER book Economic Analysis of the Digital Economy, Avi Goldfarb, Shane M. Greenstein, and Catherine E. Tucker, eds., University of Chicago Press, 2015, pp. 169-190


Online, we have access to many news sites, but can choose which sites we visit. This might create an “echo chamber,” as people choose sites that confirm existing bias. However, Internet users tend to visit centrist sites as well as extreme sites.

Policy Relevance

Economic models show how users’ views affects news sites and advertising revenue.

Main Points

  • Political polarization is increasing; some argue that polarization occurs because of technology, which lets right-wingers hear only right-wing news, and left-wingers hear only left-wing news.
  • Those who rent oddball movies still often view mainstream movies; something similar happens with Internet news, as those who visit some extreme sites get most of their news elsewhere.
  • Sites with the largest market share offer the best quality news coverage; these sites are middle-of-the-road ideologically.
    • The costs of offering quality news coverage are no less for small sites.
    • A small number of large centrist sites dominate Internet news coverage.
    • Centrist sites attract many viewers with more extreme ideologies.
  • Data from a panel of Internet users reveals whether online news consumers are seeking out “echo chambers.”
    • The average Internet user’s exposure to conservative sites is 57%.
    • The average conservative user’s exposure is 60%.
    • The average liberal’s exposure is 53%.
  • Competition between sites for advertising revenue encourage sites to identify with an ideology.
  • Internet news consumption patterns reveal more isolation than television news, magazines, and local newspapers, but less than national newspapers.
    • Eliminating the Internet would reduce overall isolation somewhat.
    • Online ideological segregation tends to be lower than segregation of social networks formed through work, neighborhoods, family, and friends.
  • Ideology is a key driver of demand; 78% of Drudge Report visitors are conservative, compared to 22% for Huffington Post.
    • Most sites would attract more visitors by moving to the center.
    • Most sites would increase total visits by becoming more extreme.
  • This model show how many viewers and additional advertising revenue a site would gain by increasing quality.


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