For journalists, social media is now a must-have journalistic resource. They rely on it to keep a pulse on their community, suss out sources, and connect to their audience. In a 2017 study by Cision (n=1,550 North American journalists and influencers), 42% report using five or more types of social media regularly. However, many journalists are wary of the platforms’ impact on journalism, the rise of ‘fake news’ and ambivalent about how best to use the data and content from social media.
Despite these major misgivings, we know that journalists (and others, including academic researchers) are increasingly using user-generated content from social media as part for their work.
But what does the public think about this relatively new journalistic practice?
In a new study, “Journalists’ Use of Social Media to Infer Public Opinion” by Elizabeth Dubois, Anatoliy Gruzd and Jenna Jacobson examined how the public perceives the journalistic use of social media data. The study, published in the journal of Social Science Computer Review, present the results and analysis of a census-balanced online survey of 1,500 online Canadian adults. The study provide recommendations for journalists on the ethical use of social media data and social media platforms opt-in functionality. The abstract and link to the full paper are below.
Journalists increasingly use social media data to infer and report public opinion by quoting social media posts, identifying trending topics, and reporting general sentiment. In contrast to traditional approaches of inferring public opinion, citizens are often unaware of how their publicly available social media data are being used and how public opinion is constructed using social media analytics. In this exploratory study based on a census-weighted online survey of Canadian adults (N = 1,500), we examine citizens’ perceptions of journalistic use of social media data. We demonstrate that (1) people find it more appropriate for journalists to use aggregate social media data rather than personally identifiable data, (2) people who use more social media are more likely to positively perceive journalistic use of social media data to infer public opinion, and (3) the frequency of political posting is positively related to acceptance of this emerging journalistic practice, which suggests some citizens want to be heard publicly on social media while others do not. We provide recommendations for journalists on the ethical use of social media data and social media platforms opt-in functionality.
Journalists’ Use of Social Media to Infer Public Opinion: The Citizens’ Perspective – Elizabeth Dubois, Anatoliy Gruzd, Jenna Jacobson, 2018