Facebook as a news channel? Use of news fanpages and opinion leadership

TitleFacebook as a news channel? Use of news fanpages and opinion leadership
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Müller, P., J. Bernsdorf, and W. Schweiger
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Technology Ilmenau
Section or WGPolitical Communication Research Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodePOLW4b
Slot Code (Keyword)POLW4b
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitlePolitical communication on Facebook
Submission ID6786

In accordance with a shrinking exposure to traditional media channels, in particular among young people (Patterson & McClure 2007; Schneekloth, 2011, 132), news organizations search for new ways to attract audiences. As recent data show, especially social network sites like Facebook are more and more used to keep informed about current news (Busemann & Gscheidle, 2011). Social network sites allow it to easily receive and disseminate information by sharing and recommending or becoming a “fan” or follower of news media, politicians or organizations. Accordingly, one potential of such fanpages can be seen in the “viral effects” that are created by users that share, like or comment on status updates by the news organization. Even with considering the so-called EdgeRank, which is an algorithm that determines which status updates and posts an individual user can read in his news stream, a study showed that on fanpages a single fan can make sure that about 34 friends of this fan can be reached (Lipsman et al., 2012). Furthermore, fans of news fanpages seem to be more active and willing to comment on news items (Visibli, 2011), thereby creating a two-step-flow of information (Jungnickel & Maireder, 2012; Mitchell, Rosenstiel & Christian, 2012). In keeping with this, we suppose that in particular fans of fanpages could function as opinion leaders that favor news diffusion (Lazarsfeld, Berelson & Gaudet, 1944). Katz (1957, 73) identifies three characteristics of opinion leaders, (1) a certain personality strength, which could lead to higher levels in active participation on Facebook. Furthermore, political efficacy should play a role in becoming active. (2) Opinion leaders should show higher levels in information seeking behavior as well as political knowledge and (3) more social contacts and engagement in organizations. Along with the above mentioned observations our study tries to answer the questions, (a) if there are more persons that can be characterized as opinion leaders among the group of news fanpage users in comparison to other Facebook users and (b) if they can really serve as a relay in information diffusion. The proposed paper will answer these questions by applying data from a German online survey among n=531 German Facebook users conducted in autumn 2012. Our results show that well-known predictors of general news exposure like political interest also determine being a fan of news fanpages on Facebook: So there seems to be no substitution, but instead using news on Facebook is related to higher exposure to political news in traditional media channels. In comparison to other users, fans of news sites also show higher levels of political efficacy, political knowledge and political participation – all features that direct on a certain opinion leadership. However, only a small part of these fans can be characterized as opinion leaders in the sense of being news transmitters that influence their network. Results, limitations, and prospects for future research will be discussed in detail.

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