Phenomenon and Impact: The Digital Divide among Algorithmic News Users


      This study focuses on the digital divide generated by algorithmic news.

      With the advent of the intelligent Internet era, algorithms have become a decisive factor of digital media. Algorithms are opening up new and complex digital divides that have emerged in unpredictable and often overlooked ways in the lives of individuals. In many mobile digital news applications, algorithms connect people with information and determine individual news visibility and reading habits. The performance of the digital divide has spread from the first-level access divide to the second-level usage divide as well as content divide, bringing complicated and profound impact on the society.

      This study took Toutiao app, a pioneer and representative of algorithm news in China, as a sample. Using a quota sampling (gender×age×city level), we conducted a questionnaire survey of its users, to investigate the phenomenon and the social impact of digital divide among algorithmic news users.

      The results reveal that differences in socioeconomic status as well as perception of benefits of new technologies will lead to usage divide among algorithmic news users. The socioeconomic status of algorithmic news users also leads to the difference of the content visibility (content divide). At the same time, the stratification of socioeconomic status has a relatively greater impact on the content divide than the usage divide. In addition, the content divide of user groups is more likely to form the information cocoon than the usage divide. In algorithmic news recommendation, the role and function of news as social public affairs aggregator is weakening.

      Based on the Knowledge Gap Theory, this study expands the discussion of digital divide under the new media paradigm, focusing on the algorithmic digital divide among different user groups. Finally, it is pointed out that although users are never passive, active users still need to be cultivated. Users' media literacy in the digital media needs to be strengthened urgently. Individuals should make full use of their own initiative to complement the algorithm, assist in adjusting and training the algorithm, so as to realize the harmonious coexistence of human and algorithm.

【Key words】algorithm news, digital divide, usage divide, content divide, information cocoon