Markus Mobius on Social Media and News Consumption

Markus Mobius from Microsoft Research New England gave a talk at our department on social media and news consumption on Wednesday. This is his joint work with Susan Athey and Jeno Pai. Using big data scraped from toolbar records, tweets, Facebook posts and other social media usage, they attempt to explain how social media affects the preferences and trends of news consumption.

Most adult internet users have more than one social media account, and social media websites are driving the traffic to news websites. The prevalence of social media prompts Mobius and his coauthors to ask the following questions: How does social media affect the composition of news consumption? Does it increase the demand for particular types of news relative to others? Does it lead to bias in the news and polarization in opinions?

With these questions in mind, they collected data about the media access from major social media websites in April and May 2013. Their primary focus is on the relative comparison between categories of news consumption, so the time window is deliberately restricted. They find that the composition of the social media users explains a great deal of the patterns in media consumption;social media as a channel to access news doesn’t seem to change people’s demand for particular genres of news relative to others.

One caveat of their research is that they can only access toolbar records of Internet Explorer users, so their sample is extremely selected (probably mostly old-fashioned and non tech-savvy people). Mobius also promoted Microsoft Research at the end of talk. PhD students can apply for summer intern positions where they choose and finish a topic in a summer. If I’m not mistaken, the data might be used for dissertation purposes as well. People with PhD degrees can take post-doc positions, and I’m a bit surprised to learn that a development economist who just got his PhD from UC Berkeley is doing a post-doc there before joining Harvard economics department.

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