News consumption and social media regulations policy

Gabriele Etta, Matteo Cinelli, Alessandro Galeazzi, Carlo Michele Valensise, Mauro conti, Walter Quattrociocchi

Users online tend to consume information adhering to their system of beliefs and to ignore dissenting information. During the COVID-19 pandemic, users get exposed to a massive amount of information about a new topic having a high level of uncertainty. In this paper, we analyze two social media that enforced opposite moderation methods, Twitter and Gab, to assess the interplay between news consumption and content regulation concerning COVID-19. We compare the two platforms on about three million pieces of content analyzing user interaction with respect to news articles. We first describe users' consumption patterns on the two platforms focusing on the political leaning of news outlets. Finally, we characterize the echo chamber effect by modeling the dynamics of users' interaction networks. Our results show that the presence of moderation pursued by Twitter produces a significant reduction of questionable content, with a consequent affiliation towards reliable sources in terms of engagement and comments. Conversely, the lack of clear regulation on Gab results in the tendency of the user to engage with both types of content, showing a slight preference for the questionable ones which may account for a dissing/endorsement behavior. Twitter users show segregation towards reliable content with a uniform narrative. Gab, instead, offers a more heterogeneous structure where users, independently of their leaning, follow people who are slightly polarized towards questionable news.

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