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Does Mainstream Tabloid News Poison the Well of Social Media? How Low-Quality News Enables Democratically-Dysfunctional News Sharing Online

Sat, May 26, 8:00 to 9:15, Hilton Prague, L, Athens

Abstract

News producers’ and citizens’ routine use of social media to share political information is generating increasing public and scholarly concern. Central to the debate is whether, to what extent, and under what conditions the social media affordances that enable information to rapidly circulate also encourage misinformation and disinformation. If media are resources that people use to try to influence others on social media, then, in the UK context, where US-style fake news “factories” do not play a role, key among the resources that matter are articles published by mainstream tabloid outlets, whose stock-in-trade has always been sensationalized and exaggerated news. Integrating four unique datasets we gathered during the 2017 UK general election campaign—individual-level data on people’s posting and news sharing on Twitter (N=1,525,748 tweets), website data (N=17,989 web domains), news article data (N=641 articles) and data from a custom-designed survey of Twitter users (N=1,313 respondents)—we find that sharing tabloid news articles on social media is a significant predictor of democratically-dysfunctional misinformation and disinformation behaviors on UK social media. We discuss the systemic consequences of this finding.

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