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Does Using Social Media for News Change Attitudes to the EU?

The final speaker in this Future of Journalism 2017 session is An Nguyen, who begins by focussing on the role of major tech companies in influencing information exposure for their users, which has given rise to concepts like 'echo chambers' and 'filter bubbles'. Various studies have now started to explore the presence of such patterns, building on a variety of data and focussing on a range of contexts, communities, and cases – with highly variable outcomes.

The present study uses the Eurobarometer 86.2 survey, to explore whether in the turmoil of 2016 EU publics changed their views on social media as sources of political news. To what extent do they rely on social media, and under what circumstances; how does this impact on their level political knowledge? The survey covers some 28,000 participants from 28 EU member states, during the first fortnight of November 2016.

First, in spite of events like Brexit and the Trump election, the survey respondents' attitudes towards social media as sources of political news have improved substantially. Reliance on social media for political news is mainly related to age, with younger users more likely to rely on social media; such users are also more likely to trust what they see on such social media platforms. There is no practical effect on political attitudes, however: social media users are no more likely to see the EU in a positive or negative light across a number of evaluative dimensions, compared to non-users.

This is likely to mean that people rely on social media for news not because of pre-existing attitudes towards the EU or towards the mainstream news media, but instead mainly for other demographic reasons, including especially their age. This also means that 'echo chamber' and 'filter bubbles' must be revisited, and moral panics about social media should be questioned.