How people make sense of incidental news

Picture: untitled by Daniel Korpai, license Unsplash

A new study by Manuel Goyanes of University Carlos III de Madrid and Marton Demeter of National University of Public Service, Budapest, contributes to the ongoing research on incidental news consumption in social media platforms.

Goyanes and Demeter studied how people make sense, how they cognitively appraise, and how they construct and perceive the effect of incidental news. For these questions, semi-structured interviews of 50 Spanish incidental news consumers were conducted and analyzed. 

Perceptions and effects

Incidental news is split in two categories: news (often from legacy media) that are shared by the networks people are acquainted with, and second, algorithmic suggestions of little information content, sponsored by platforms based on users´ previous engagement. 

The interviewees were well aware of the fact that emotionally triggering content was shared more easily, and were also aware of their participation with it – one interviewee summed up the sentiments of many others in phrasing “something very shocking or something that provokes you”. Topics such as climate change, violence particularly gendered, and catastrophes dominated this category.

Second category was described as “annoying” and something not paid attention to much. The result was that the first category helped users make sense of their social lives, but the second had little effect. Some suggested that ‘awareness’ on certain topics was increased by shared news. Some participants got their information through it because of lack of direct engagement with news organizations. 

Incidental news may or may not trigger interest

All in all, the interviews revealed numerous variables and nuances when it come to the effects and engagement. The users may or may not decide to look up an issue further they have encountered incidentally depending on situational, cognitive, and behavioral factors. The authors suggest that further studies could look at the topic more holistically using indirect methods rather than pure engagement to study the effects.

The study “Beyond positive or negative: Understanding the phenomenology, typologies and impact of incidental news exposure on citizens’ daily lives” is in New Media & Society (free abstract).

Picture: untitled by Daniel Korpai, license Unsplash

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