'Enclaves of exposure' : a conceptual viewpoint to explore cross-ideology exposure on social network sites

Rathnayake, Chamil and Suthers, Daniel D. (2018) 'Enclaves of exposure' : a conceptual viewpoint to explore cross-ideology exposure on social network sites. The Social Science Journal. ISSN 0362-3319 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soscij.2018.08.015)

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Previous studies indicate mixed results as to whether social media constitutes ideological echo chambers. This inconsistency may arise due to a lack of theoretical frames that acknowledge the fact that contextual and technological factors allow varying levels of cross-cutting exposure on social media. This study suggests an alternative theoretical lens, divergence of exposure – co-existence of user groups with varying degrees of cross-ideology exposure related to the same issue – as a notion that serves as an overarching perspective. We suggest that mediated spaces, such as social media groups, can serve as enclaves of exposure that offer affordances for formation of user groups irrespective of offline social distinctions. Yet social elements cause some of them to display more cross-ideology exchange than others. To establish this claim empirically, we examine two Facebook page user networks (‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields’ and ‘Sri Lankans Hate Channel 4’) that emerged in response to Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, a controversial documentary broadcast by Channel 4 that accused Sri Lankan armed forces of human rights violation during the final stage of the separatist conflict in Sri Lanka. The results showed that the Facebook group network that supported the claims made by Channel 4 is more diverse in terms of ethnic composition, and is neither assortative nor disassortative across ethnicity, suggesting the presence of cross-ethnicity interaction. The pro-allegiant group was largely homogenous and less active, resembling a passive echo chamber. ‘Social mediation’ repurposes enclaves of exposure to represent polarized ideologies where some venues display cross-ideology exposure, while others resemble an ‘echo chamber’.