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Why don’t we learn from social media? Studying effects of and mechanisms behind social media news use on general surveillance political knowledge

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

Does exposure to news affect what people know about politics? This old question attracted new scholarly interest as the political information environment is changing rapidly. In particular, since citizens have new channels at their disposal, such as Twitter and Facebook, which increasingly complement or even replace traditional channels of information. This study investigates to what extent citizens have knowledge about daily politics and to what extent news on social media can provide this knowledge. It does so by means of a large online survey in Belgium (Flanders), in which we measured what people know about current political events, their so-called general surveillance knowledge. Our findings demonstrate that unlike following news via traditional media channels, citizens do not gain more political knowledge from following news on social media. We even find a negative association between following the news on Facebook and political knowledge. We further investigate why this is the case. Our data demonstrate that this lack of learning on social media is not due to a narrow, personalized news diet, as is often suggested. Rather, we find evidence that following news via social media increases a feeling of information overload, which decreases what people actually learn, especially for citizens who combine news via social media with other news sources.
Journal: Political communication
ISSN: 1058-4609
Volume: 99
Pages: 1 - 19
Publication year:2020
Keywords:A1 Journal article