The Impact of Online Platforms and Intermediaries on Opinion Formation
What role do intermediaries like Google, Facebook, YouTube or WhatsApp play when people get informed about social issues or when they form an opinion?
Search engines, network and multimedia platforms as well as instant messaging services are crucial elements of communication and information behaviour online. They function as intermediaries because they open up numerous different sources for their users with the help of filtering algorithms and bundle those into personalised information services. From a user’s point of view, they do not only manage information but also support further practices of identity and relationship management. Thus, intermediaries online contribute to the current change of the public. However, the effects for the formation of opinions on social issues has hardly been researched and understood. The relevance of single media services and digital services for the formation of opinion will be examined in a qualitative study for the Landesmedienanstalten [State Media Authorities].
Against this background, this qualitative study seeks to answer three key questions:
What relevance do online intermediaries have for different user groups regarding the information on social relevant questions?
How are online intermediaries and the contents, which are being communicated via intermediaries, integrated in the specific practices and networks of shaping opinions?
What do different population groups know about the technical selective achievements of online intermediaries and to what extend does this (non-existing) knowledge go along with the reflected use of online intermediaries?
These key questions will be addressed with a qualitative research design that will examine six groups. The characteristics “age” as well as “focus of the group on political engagement” will vary for the recruitment of the groups.
The following survey methods will be used:
Group interviews (6 group interviews with 4-6 person each)
In-depth individual interviews with selected group members (3 persons each from the 6 groups), in which a network card will be created along with the use of online intermediaries accompanied by thinking aloud.
The conducted empirical data material will be analysed in a multi-level procedure and edited in form of single portraits as well as group portraits. The comparative synthesis will be the basis for answering the leading questions.
Research programme: RP1 - Transformation of Public Communication