How do our Facebook friends influence what news we read? Nicolas M. Anspach, of Temple University, studied how people select political news in social media.
The author conducted a survey experiment (105 participants) using mock Facebook News Feeds. The news feeds contained activity attributed to different sources, from fictional individuals to participants’ own friends. Each feed contained two entertainment articles and two political articles, with varying activity and varying sources of activity.
Results show that online endorsements and discussions serve as heuristics for selecting content. As much as 50% of those who selected news from pro-attitudinal sources when social influence was absent, decided to read counter-attitudinal news if their friends had endorsed it.
The effect is only significant when the activity comes from friends or family members. Fictional individuals’ recommendations had no effect on information selectivity, the study found. Endorsements from friends compel also entertainment-seekers to consume more political news.
“By drawing a wider audience to political news, social media’s endorsement features may influence the electorate’s political participation, knowledge, efficacy, or discourse”, the author concludes.
The article “The New Personal Influence” was published in Political Communication and is available online (free abstract).
Picture: Please tell me why we worry by Jacob Ufkes, license CC0 1.0