Topic polarization and push notifications




push notifications, partisanship, polarization, fourth estate


In the fake news era, a combination of politics, big technology, and fear and animosity are blamed for the media mistrust and filter bubbles that are entrenching fragmentation in the public sphere. A partisan divide in the media and extreme political disagreements are nothing new, but new technology, such as social media and mobile push notifications, influences these years-old phenomena and plays an important role in current concerns. This paper explores how stories are represented differently by topic and across platforms, examining representation, polarization, and objectivity. Specifically, this paper looks at those issues from a novel perspective: through sentiment analysis of push notifications generated and archived from the Breaking News App on disasters, gun violence, and terrorism. Results indicate that partisan news organizations (1) emphasize different stories; (2) label the same events as categorically different; (3) hyperbolize and emotionalize different types of stories; and, (4) represent different categories of breaking news stories to different degrees of subjectivity.

Author Biographies

Madelyn Rose Sanfilippo, Center for Information Technology Policy Princeton University

Madelyn Rose Sanfilippo is a postdoctoral research associate at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. She is broadly interested in legal, social, and political issues surrounding information and information technology access, applying a social informatics perspective. Her research empirically explores governance of sociotechnical systems, as well as outcomes, inequality, and consequences within these systems, through mixed method research design. Madelyn is also currently collaborating on a large scale project, funded by the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, to examine how push notifications and personalized distribution and consumption of news manipulate readers and contributes to media anxiety, as well as what the implications of these changes in digital journalism may be for an informed electorate. Madelyn’s work is informed by her interdisciplinary background, as she studied political science, international studies, Spanish, and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison as an undergraduate and completed her masters and doctoral studies in information science at Indiana University, Bloomington’s School of Informatics and Computing. Madelyn was also previously a postdoctoral research scholar at the Information Law Institute at New York University’s School of Law, where she studied knowledge commons governance, as well as social consequences and governance of artificial intelligence.

Yafit Lev-Aretz

Assistant Professor of Law at Zicklin School of Business, Baruch College, City University of New York




How to Cite

Sanfilippo, M. R., & Lev-Aretz, Y. (2019). Topic polarization and push notifications. First Monday, 24(9).