Engaged Reading Digest: the unexpected face of polarisation

The assumptions many people make about social media, news consumption and polarisation may not be accurate. Prepare for a surprise…

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Social media is polarising us all, right?

Well, maybe not. As is so often the case, the assumptions we make about the dynamics of the media ecosystem turn out to be more complex once proper research is done. And our equally assumed solutions might be just as bad.

Buckle up. Mindshift time. 🤯

Social Media might be increasing news exposure

A fascinating piece of work by Dr Richard Fletcher that suggests that some of the established notions of algorithms limiting news exposure might not be entirely accurate.

People who use social media for news, particularly if they're using it for other reasons, are incidentally exposed to news whilst they're there and this boosts the amount of news that people use compared to the group that don't use social media at all. So the group that do use social media use more and more different online news sources.

They also found that people who go directly to news websites tended to consume from a narrower range of sources. That suggests that, as we attempt to build a more loyal audience base, we need to pay attention to diversification of viewpoints in our coverage.

The truth behind filter bubbles: Bursting some myths
Richard Fletcher discussed the evidence behind filter bubbles in one of our seminars. Here’s an edited transcript of that talk.

Publishers get tribal to acquire subscribers

In the context of the finding above, this piece by lovely former student Chris Sutcliffe should ring a few alarm bells:

[…] many news publications have found it difficult to justify using the exclusivity of their content as the selling point for a subscription. After all, in the age of information overload you’d be hard pressed to find a generalist newspaper that isn’t covering the same beats as many free-to-access online outlets. Consequently, they have made their political affiliation or stance the core of their proposition – for better and worse.

We've been assuming that building direct relationships with readers will help ease the polarisation effect we've been seeing in recent years. However, if we become more politically tribal to attract those users, are we just going to make it worse, instead?

(I promise not to use tribal marketing to sell my premium offer. Honest.)

The rise of tribal subscription marketing - Digital Content Next
As digital subscriptions become the default primary revenue stream for many newspapers, the marketing messages they use to create kinship is changing.

And Chris isn't the only one to have noticed:

Podcast Polarization

I probably should add this to the list of recommended podcasts I crowd-sourced last week, but the RSA's podcast on polarisation remains excellent listening. I recommend heading back to episode one and listening your way through it.

Polarised - RSA
The RSA is a charity which encourages the release of human potential to address the challenges that society faces. Join us to help shape the future.

Inoculating primary school children against misinformation

Let's finish on a positive, Finnish note. Finland's approach to dealing with misinformation it attracting a lot of attention worldwide.

I'm not sure the current UK government, given its displayed attitude to the press so far, is ready to follow this path, but maybe other countries can learn from it…

How Finland starts its fight against fake news in primary schools
Country on frontline of information war teaches everyone from school pupils to politicians how to spot slippery information
polarisationalgorithmsmembership models

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.