Category : Audience

Fake News and Disinformation: Audiences, Public Opinion and Regulatory Frameworks

Among the range of interesting (virtual) seminars taking place last summer, I had the pleasure to join my colleages at Meso Argentina for the talk on “Noticias Falsas y Desinformación: Audiencias, Opinión Pública y Marclos Regulatorios” (Fake News and Disinformation: Audiences, Public Opinión and Regulatory Frameworks).

My presentation focused on the results of our study on the role of suspended accounts during major elections in Europe. This study sheds light on the moderation strategies of major social media platforms during electoral contests. The panel featured also Sarah Ganter from Simon Fraser University and Sebastián Valenzuela from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.

The full video recording of my presentation and that of my colleagues is available at the Meso Argentina Youtube channel (Spanish only)


#RISJWebinar on News Audience Behaviour in Electoral Years

We are rapidly approaching a new presidential election in the US. What does evidence tell us on how audiences navigate news during elections? Based on observed digital data, I presented the results of Reuters Institute studies on news audience behaviour during major political events like the elections in the US or more recently, the contested elections in India last year. Do audiences navigate the information ecosystem in a way that’s consistent with echo-chambers? How do digital-born media compare to legacy media in the provision of information during elections?

In the Reuters’ seminar, which took place on 4 June 2020, we looked at patterns of news navigation on the web and on social media, including Twitter and Facebook, drawing on digital traces that people leave behind when keeping up with current affairs. I also focused on comparing differences across countries and media systems.

You can whatch the full seminar on the Reuters’ Youtube chanel here.

The presentation included results from the latest elections in the US, India, UK, Spain and France. The figure below presents the electoral events that I focused on during the seminar. The slides of the presentation are available here.

Note: Own elaboration.

Online Audience Engagement with Legacy and Digital-Born News Media in the 2019 Indian Elections

In this factsheet, we studied online audience engagement with legacy and digital-born news media across social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) and the open web during the 2019 Indian General Election on the basis of data collected between 11 April and 19 May. We analysed cross-platform online audience engagement with a sample of 101 major Indian news media during an election in which more than five thousand candidates ran for the 543 available seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian parliament, and nine hundred million eligible voters were called to the polls in the largest democratic election in the world.

Borrowing tools from social network analysis, we found that overall the Indian online news environment was not fragmented along partisan lines during election. Also digital-born and regional, vernacular-language media topped Twitter and Facebook election engagement, respectively. Interestingly, regional news outlets dominated the provision of political information on Facebook, with non-English, vernacular-language outlets by far the most active on the platform. National broadcasters came a distant second. On Twitter, digital-born outlets and national daily newspapers were the most active during the elections, though national broadcasters were close behind.

To access the full fact sheet click here.


The Digital-Born and Legacy News Media on Twitter during the French Presidential Elections

Digital-born and legacy news media are competing to control the most central positions in the flow of online news. To understand how this competition unfolded during the French presidential election, we analysed a sample of 2.96 million news related tweets from a larger dataset of 43.5 million messages collected during the 2017 French elections. We found that legacy media, most notably newspapers and broadcasters, figured very prominently in the political discussions on Twitter. Legacy media generated more than seven times as much activity and engagement as digital-born news media during the election.

Our results suggested that some newspapers and digital-born news media have much lower levels of engagement than their general audience reach, follower count, and their frequent tweeting would lead one to expect. According to our analysis audience attention and engagement is very unevenly distributed and it is not always proportional to the level of media activity.

To access the full fact sheet click here.

The rising role of social media as news content discovery platforms

The consumption of political news is increasingly mediated by social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Snapchat, Pinterest Timblr, Instagram, among others. These new players are changing the way people keep up with current news and also noteworthy, they are reconfiguring the media business market. The latest Digital News Report by Reuters Institute offers relevant figures to understand the fundamental changes under which the news media sector is. Here, I review some of those related to the impact of the social media platforms on the diversity of sources of information that people can access. Then, I raise some questions regarding the implications of this changes for the functioning of democracy.

People are less willing to search political content directly on branded websites, according to Reuters Institute’s report.  Instead, they increasingly relay on their news feeds to bump into political information. This is a new habit especially relevant in countries such as Ireland (12%), the US (11%) and Australia (12%) where people access news content just login into their social media platforms. Looking by ages, those among 18 and 24 years old are more likely to read news through their social profiles rather than tuning into a TV channel. More precisely, 21% of people that navigates political information through social platforms are in between their 18’s and 24’s.

Overall, the access to news is still dominated by television, as the main source. This is the case in Germany (58%), Japan (49%), Italy (49%) where a larger number of people prefer television rather than online news outlets as a first source for information. Yet, citizens increasingly adopt Internet –including social media- as main access to political information. In Australia (44%), Denmark (42%) and Finland (46%) online outlets are preferred sources for news. In Spain, 38% opt for online outlets to access news, a figure that is near to the 41% of those who primarily follow news on TV. As for the newspapers, in Spain only 8% says they’d rather read news on press to stay informed .

On Facebook: are people more likely to find new sources of information? Do they only face opinions in line with their own views?

Why are these figures important? To better gauge the impact of Reuters Institute’s findings and above all to the understand the implications of the growing trend of accessing to news by using social media profiles, it is essential to highlight the importance of information for the proper functioning of political systems and democracies .

An informed citizenry about the problems facing their societies is a necessary condition for a well-functioning democratic system.
Information is crucial for fostering healthy public debate and deliberation; It helps people to enhance their political knowledge; information underlies political engagement mechanisms and it is an explanatory factor for political participation processes; and even more important, accessing a broad range of news sources is necessary in that researchers have empirically demonstrated that facing cross-cutting opinions –stand points that challenge your positions- moderate radical opinions (Mutz, 2002). To sump up, healthy democracies depend largely on a plural news media environment .

Hence, knowing the way people access to political information is essential for advancing in guarantying the ideal of public and diverse informational system that a democracy needs. In this regard, the changing dynamics on public access to news, raise questions about the role of social media’s algorithms in providing news content on people’s online walls. Now that people is increasingly getting informed through their social media profiles we should investigated whether, on Facebook for instance, they are more likely to find new sources of information; or whether they only face opinions in line with their own views; Or on the contrary, if there are more cross-cutting information on Facebook’s news feeds (Maybe, thanks of processes of information sharing and discussing with larger social networks than the ones in the offline world). Several research projects have tried to shed light on these questions (see for instance Barberà, 2014; Adamic and Glance, 2005) But we still lack from a definitive answers and further research is necessary considering the increasing role of the social media platforms as news content providers .

Beyond the social media, one can also see the increasing importance of native digital news brand sites in news market. In Spain, for instance, traditional media news still dominates the access to news but, as noted above, the impact of digital news players in accessing political content is growing. This might contribute to a less concentrated news market yet one should ask, whether it will contribute to a more pluralistic democratic debate.  Here again there is room for further research .

Turning gears a little bit, devices used for accessing information is also relevant. Accessing news via mobile cell phones is not a new trend, but according to Reuters Institute’s report, difference with desktop devices are getting smaller. Users access more news brand online than offline, 6.8 to 4.1 respectively in Spain. But using their mobile phones people access less online media outlets (1.5 sources) than in their laptop or desktop computers. The question here is: Does it mean that consuming information while commuting is less diverse? Can this fact combined with figures of growing predominance of mobile phones in the consumption of news have consequences on people’s opinions? Interesting questions that Reuters’ report raises and will feed the future research on political communication studies.