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Politicians as opinion leaders. How politicians' news sharing influences media trust and polarization.

This proposal puts the role of politicians as opinion leaders central. The new digital media environment has given politicians more tools to influence, both directly and indirectly, people's consumption and interpretation of news and information on current affairs. We will study what news stories politicians share on social media and how this affects their followers and public opinion in general. First, politicians can influence to what extent people trust mainstream and alternative media. By sharing and commenting on the content of news stories on social media, politicians can help disseminate their messages, circumventing the gatekeeping role of the media. This influence can enhance the trust in (alternative/partisan) media outlets, but also damage the media's reputation as a democratic institution. Second, politicians can promote more extreme views and opinions, and contribute to the polarization of their audience. Ultimately, politicians, by acting as opinion leaders, may contribute to their followers getting stuck in so-called 'echo chambers' of like-minded information. We will use a multi-method approach (content analysis, user engagement analysis, survey, experiment) to study the news sharing behavior of politicians and its effects on their followers in Belgium (Flanders), the Netherlands, and the UK.
Date:1 Jan 2021  →  Today
Disciplines:Political communication, Public opinion, Media and communication theory, Journalism studies