At a time when, as shown by recent research from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 9 out of 10 people in the United States seek out information from Search engines, according to Brossard and Scheufele scientists need to be aware of the issues raised by the online environment.
“Online environments are providing audiences with great opportunities to connect with science, but social scientists are only beginning to understand the nature of these connections and their potential outcomes on how audiences all make sense of complex scientific issues,” write Brossard and Scheufele in the January 4, 2013, issue of Science.
“Our analyses showed a self-reinforcing spiral, which means more people see a shrinking, more similar set of news and opinions on science and technology subjects when they do online searches,” Brossard told UW Communications.
Recent research Brossard and Scheufele suggests that the Internet may be narrowing public discourse and that the comments section in online news stories can influence readers’ opinions even in the case of neutral content about science.
“The day of reading a story and then turning the page to read another is over,” Scheufele told UW Communications. “Now each story is surrounded by numbers of Facebook likes and tweets and comments that color the way readers interpret even truly unbiased information. This will produce more and more unintended effects on readers, and unless we understand what those are and even capitalize on them, they will just cause more and more problems.”