“Competing for Limited Attention on Social Media”

Abstract: Technological advances stemming from social media have enabled users to systematically access a deluge of information, yet, it is unclear to what extent this technology has actually helped to better inform. In this paper, we present an attention-based model of social media content creation and consumption on a digital news feed. Contrary to expectation, we show that information overflow and competition for user attention can lead to overall less available information. To demonstrate this, we first establish a benchmark level of information provision in a game where a monopolistic content provider invests in creating a single article, and the consumer can strategically choose how much time to invest in reading it. We then characterize the conditions under which the information provided by a monopolist who can supply many such articles on the digital platform at the same time is richer or poorer than this benchmark. Lastly, we find that competition across many content providers further degrades the richness of information in equilibrium, as providers often resort to low-quality content such as catchy click-bait.