Category : Political Information

At the #IJPP20 Conference talking about Political Fragmentation Online

The videos of the panels of the The International Journal of Press/Politics annual conference are available on Youtube. They feature a range of interesting presentations from colleagues from 36 different countries. Here, I presented our work on political fragmentation on social media using a Structural Topic Model approach. This is the first outcome of a collaborative effort including my colleagues Raphael Heiberger (University of Bremen), Laia Castro (University of Zurich), Rasmus K. Nielsen (University of Oxford), Frank Esser (University of Zurich).

The #IJPP20 conference was held virtually for the first time and it was also the first congress of 2020 to present my research, after a long period of time including my maternity leave. It had something special, not just because it was held online but also, because it took place after a severe lockdown in many countries in Europe; and an uncertain summer, when Covid-related cases were increasing in many countries in the world, including the UK and Spain. My gratitute goes to all the organizers and the editor of the IJPP, Cristian Vaccari for an excellent planification of the virtual conference.

Watch the video of the presentation “Political Fragmentation in the Online Domain:
Evidence from a structural topic modelling approach”

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)


New Reuters Factsheet: Toxic Conversations on Twitter during the Covid-19 pandemic

In this RISJ Factsheet, we assess the volume and patterns of toxic conversations on social media during the Covid-19 pandemic. We specifically analyse worldwide conversations on Twitter targeting the World Health Organization (WHO), a central actor during the pandemic.

Download here the factsheet to read all the results.

Toxic messages amount to 21% of the overall conversation touching on the Covid-19 pandemic and the role of the WHO in the crisis. In other words, 21 out of 100 tweets in our sample are expected to convey a rude, disrespectful, or unreasonable comment. The percentage of toxic tweets increases after 26 March (25%), when many countries were facing the growing adverse effects of the pandemic and passing measures to confine their populations.

Our analysis contributes to the current research on the health of online debates amid the increasing role of social media as a critical entrance to information and mediator of public opinion building. The research team working on this study includes Professor Rasmus K. Nielsen, Dr Joan Verdú, Nandan Rao, Dr Manlio de Domenico and Dr Omiros Papaspiliopoulos.

#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.


Digital-Born and Legacy News Media on Twitter during the UK General Election

In this RISJ factsheet, we presented an analysis of a sample of 4.26 million news-related tweets from a larger dataset of 28 million tweets collected during the 2017 UK General Election. The document examined the role of digital-born and legacy news media in online political discussions. To do this, we mapped Twitter discussions around a range of keywords and hashtags tied to the election as well as the activity of 129 British media outlets, including 105 legacy media and 24 digital-born outlets.

Our findings showed that legacy media, including most broadcasters – BBC News, Channel 4 News, and Sky News figured very prominently in the political discussion on Twitter. The Economist and the Financial Times as well as a few pure digital-players also drew high levels of engagement and attention on Twitter during the same period of time, though they were much less active in posting news content.

Overall, the study showed legacy media generated almost four times as much activity and engagement as digital-born news media during the election. More precisely, broadcasters were responsible for the highest number of tweets related to the election and were the more frequently mentioned during that period. Newspapers reached parity with broadcasters in terms of overall tweet volume during conventional political events like the television debates and the polling day.

To access the full fact sheet click here.

Digital-Born and Legacy News Media on Twitter during the German Federal Election

Which news media drew most attention during the German Federal Election on Twitter? Which one ranked top in terms of audience engagement? These are just two questions that we answered in these RISJ Factsheet. Here, we explained how news audience attention took shape on Twitter in the weeks ahead of the polling day and up to the day after this major political event in Europe.  We showed how the competition between digital-born outlets and legacy media unfolds on Twitter. Digital-born and legacy media are competing to control the most central positions in the flow of online news in most of the Western media markets, Germany is no exception. How this competition, which is even greater during elections, unfolds on social media platforms is still largely unknown. Our research advances the knowledge in this field.

The most important result of the study is that the German main public service media organisations, ARD and ZDF, alongside several weekly news publications figured very prominently on Twitter during the campaign. They all achieved a wide reach and higher levels of audience engagement than other German news providers.  These results speak to the importance that quality journalism and video content have for German citizens. We found that German Twitter users engaged largely with quality journalism from trusted brands across much of the political spectrum and that commentary on Twitter as well as tweets containing multimedia content performed particularly well.

We gathered 4.4 million tweets, collected over 36 days in the lead up to the election, and obtained a filtered sample of 729,799 news-related Twitter messages. The sample provided unique evidence to understand the role of German news media outlets on the social media platform.

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.