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News Usage on Social Networking Platforms

News Usage on Social Networking Platforms

In a digital media landscape, an increasing amount of news distribution and selection takes place on social media platforms. The practices of news reception in the context of social media platforms were investigated in this dissertation in five studies based on three different data collections.

Drawing on the theoretical concepts of media repertoires and curated news flows, three research aims guided the work across the subprojects: These were to gauge a) the relevance of social media platforms in the overall news repertoire, b) the significance of personal curation practices, and c) the opportunities and challenges of capturing news reception across plat­forms.
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Project Description

Articles 1 and 2 are based on 18 qualitative interviews and six group discussions in Germany about the relevance of information intermediaries in everyday media use. The first article discusses contextualized repertoire maps as a qualitative approach to study news reper­toires and to capture social media news use across platforms. The second article addresses the relevance of social media platforms and other information intermediaries in routines of information-related media use. Articles 3 and 4 combined Dutch web tracking and survey data to measure news consumption and predictors of news consumption via social media and put these results in context with news consumption via websites and search engines. Article 4 also examined exposure data from users' personalized Facebook news feeds to analyze whether news exposure and reception on social media platforms reinforces or levels existing inequalities in news use. The fifth article addresses the prevalence and predictors of personal curation practices (such as subscribing to news providers or hiding news content on social media) using representative survey data from 36 countries.

Across the studies, results point to a relevant but not necessarily central position that social media platforms hold in the news repertoire of users. Social media platforms are only one element of diverse news-related media repertoires and use practices. Those users who already have high levels of political or news interest are exposed to news content via social media platforms or engage with such content. The potential for incidental news exposure on social media platforms seems to be lower for people with lower levels of interest in current affair, also because these users do not click on news-related hyperlinks and their personalized already contains less news content.

Moreover, practices of personal news curation on social media platforms have the potential to stabilize existing motivational differences in news use: News interest is a significant predictor of news-boosting curation on social media; news avoidance in general is also associated with news-limiting behavior on social media platforms. These relations can be seen as further indicators that mechanisms of news consumption on social media platforms perpetuate existing imbalances and inequalities in news use. However, group comparisons also show that users who report news-limiting practices in social media nonetheless report a higher number of online news sources and a more politically diverse online repertoire than those users who do not curate their news content on social media at all. These findings may encourage us to also think of these (news-limiting) curation practices as practices of repertoire management and news engagement. In the current media environment, where journalists are shifting from gate­keeper to curator positions, intentionally shaping one's social media newsfeed can also be under­stood as a form of editorial work on one's information repertoire.

In this thesis, the practices of social media news use were examined through three different methodological approaches. Repertoire mapping in the qualitative interviews enabled the visualization of cross-media use practices; the 36-country analysis of survey data demonstrated the relevance of a perspective on social media news curation that goes beyond a Euro/US-centric focus; the tracking data allowed to capture less salient episodes of news use. None­theless, methodological desiderata regarding data quality and validity also remained open in the method combination. There will likely not be the one comprehensive, cost-effective, and methodologically sound way to capture personalized news use on social media across platforms in the near future. Nevertheless, the debates about the supposedly strong effects of social media news use on political opinion formation, political participation, and learning should be an incentive for further methodological development, making use of approaches from computational social science.

Project Information

Overview

Duration: 2015-2018

Research programme:
RP1 - Transformation of Public Communication

Involved persons

Lisa Merten, M. A.

Third party

Cooperation Partner

Contact person

Lisa Merten, M. A.
Junior Researcher Media Use & Digital Communication

Lisa Merten, M. A.

Leibniz-Institut für Medienforschung │ Hans-Bredow-Institut (HBI)
Rothenbaumchaussee 36
20148 Hamburg

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