A Study of a Sample of Facebook Users Finds They Do Not Seek Political News through Facebook But Are Exposed to Political News through This Medium
A Review of:
Schaferm, S., Sulflow, M., & Muller, P. (2017). The special taste of snack news: an application of niche theory to understand the appeal of Facebook as a source for political news. First Monday, 22(4-3). http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i4.7431
Objective – To investigate Facebook as a source of exposure to political news stories and to compare the reasons for using Facebook as a news source and the gratifications obtained, compared with other news sources.
Design – Survey questionnaire.
Setting – Facebook.
Subjects – 422 German Facebook users.
Methods – An online survey was developed to investigate the use of Facebook as a news source compared with other sources. Specific research questions were informed by the ‘theory of niche’ (Dimmick, 2003) which examines the coexistence and competition between different media outlets by examining the breadth, overlap and superiority of one platform over another. The survey was distributed using a ‘snowball’ technique between July and August 2015. The survey was shared by 52 student research assistants on their Facebook profiles. They asked their friends to complete the survey and share it with their own networks.
Main results – The mean (M) age of the 422 respondents was 23.5 years (SD=8.25). The majority were female (61%) with a high school degree (89%). TV news and news websites were the most frequently used sources of political news. Facebook ranked third, ahead of newspapers, search engines, magazines, email provider websites, and Twitter. The mean score for the importance of Facebook as a news sources was 2.46 (SD=1.13) on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is low and 5 is high. This fell in the middle of the range when compared with the top ranked source assessed by importance (TV news, M 4.40, SD=0.88) and the lowest (email providers, M 1.92, SD=0.97). Users rarely visited Facebook with the purpose of finding news (M 1.59, SD=0.73). However, they estimated around 24% of the posts they see were concerned with political news, and when encountered, these stories are frequently read (M 3.53, SD=1.18). However, the level of interaction as measured by liking, commenting, sharing or status updates was low (M 1.94 SD=1.09; M 1.37, SD=0.79; M 1.51, SD=0.85 and M 1.4, SD=0.78 respectively). The ‘gratification’ categories where Facebook as a news source scored the highest were for killing time (M 2.97, SD=1.29), entertainment (M 2.92, SD=1.05), and surveillance (M 2.77, SD=1.01). When compared to newspapers and TV news, it was found that Facebook has a lower score for niche breadth, meaning that it serves a specific rather than general news function. Facebook also had a lower overlap score when compared with the other media, thereby performing a complementary function, while TV news and newspapers perform similarly. TV news scored better for providing balanced information, surveillance and social utility while Facebook scored highest for killing time. There was no difference in the category of entertainment. There was a similar picture when comparing Facebook with newspapers.
Conclusion – The authors conclude that while users do not actively seek political news through Facebook, they are exposed to political news through this medium. Respondents did not consider the news to be well balanced, and that currently Facebooks’ niche is restricted to entertainment and killing time. The authors note that this may be disappointing for news organisations, but there is potential to expose large audiences to political news when they are not actively seeking it. The findings represent a specific time point in a changing landscape and future research will need to take these changes into account. Comparisons with other online news sources and the use of objective measures to validate self-reported data would be valuable areas for future research.
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