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Liking News on Facebook: What Does It Mean?

The next speaker at ECREA 2012 is Irène Bastard, whose interest is in the use of the Facebook 'like' button to engage with the news. Talking about news can be a democratic expression, or can enhance social interactions; it can be a driver of attention and buzz, activate weak social links, or serve as a 'bubble' filter. I ordinary conversations, there may also be a range of acceptable or unacceptable topics, depending on the social situation.

On Facebook, the 'like' button provides the simplest possible way of engaging with the news; by liking a news article, it is shared with one's friends, who also see the aggregate number of likes which specific shared articles have received. This can be seen as a collaborative filtering process for news stories. But likes can be understood differently in different situations – not all likes mean the same thing.

Irène examined likes for six major media sites in France during the French presidential elections in mid-2012, collecting the likes and comments for each article in selected sections; over the period, likes and comments moved more or less in parallel. They tend to lag behind the publication of articles; spikes in liking can occur even on weekend days when few new news articles are published.

Likes do not necessarily express agreement with the subject of articles, of course – a substantial number of users liked articles about the success of extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the first round of presidential elections, for example.