Why leveraging Twitter for stories isn’t a good bet for news portals – says French study

New Delhi: Since the creation of Twitter in 2006, the microblogging site has come to play a major role for news organizations, thanks to its audience of 45 million. While the social media platform has been instrumental in promoting news content, what happens when it becomes a news source? And is journalism like “what’s happening on Twitter” sustainable?

According to a study by French researchers affiliated with Sciences Po and the National Audiovisual Archives, news outlets that rely heavily on articles about what’s popular on Twitter don’t get more views on those articles. only on their original content.

Such articles are also more likely to be published by outlets that are hungry for advertising revenue and that do not come with a paywall, and end up causing their journalists to misunderstand their audience. In short, social media journalism can hamper editorial quality, according to the study, published Saturday in a column on Vox EU – a portal where academics post research-based opinions.

The researchers tried to find the answer by studying more than two billion tweets in French, posted between August 2018 and July 2019.

The study was conducted by Julia Cagé, associate professor of economics at Sciences Po (Paris Institute of Political Studies), Béatrice Mazoyer, research engineer at the same institute, and Nicolas Hervé, senior research engineer at the Archive National Audiovisual Institute (National Audiovisual Institute).


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“Twitter sets the agenda for media coverage”

The authors combined their analysis of the tweets with what mainstream media published or aired at the same time, and also measured reactions to the tweets in terms of likes, retweets and replies.

The study claimed that when people start tweeting constantly about an event, they can influence news outlets to schedule coverage around those topics.

“All other things being equal – and, in particular, regardless of the timeliness of a story – a 55% increase in the number of tweets published before the first news article on a story leads to an increase in the number of articles by press covering the story at 17% of the average. In other words, Twitter is setting the news coverage agenda in quantitatively significant ways,” the authors wrote.

“Short Term Considerations” About Ad Revenue

According to the study’s authors, larger news outlets that employ more journalists with Twitter accounts are more likely to monitor conversations on the microblogging platform. Therefore, Twitter in such circumstances becomes a source.

The authors also analyzed news coverage by mainstream media and found that most of this information delivered by Twitter is published or broadcast by news outlets that are more dependent on advertising revenue, when more views lead to more advertising on their website.

As reliance on ad revenue decreases (or when a paywall of some form is put in place), the likelihood of news outlets covering the conversation on social media also decreases.

A paywall is a digital lock that forces a reader to subscribe to content in order to read or view it. The authors further separated the paywalls according to their stiffness. A hard paywall is a wall that does not allow a reader to access content unless they have been paid for. Other types of paywalls included freemium sites – which offer a limited number of free articles or require readers to see or read advertisements in order to continue reading content.

This is evident from the fact that among the media studied by the authors, more than half (52%) did not have a paywall. In fact, of all outlets covering this news, less than one percent (0.8 percent) had a paywall (subscription required to access content).

“Twitter influences mainstream media due to short-term considerations generated by ad revenue-generating clicks,” the authors said.

The study also claimed that covering things that are already popular on Twitter doesn’t translate to more views. This is, the authors argue, because Twitter users are not the “general representative” of the actual audience of news readers or viewers.

Shall we, shall we not

The authors cited existing research that argued that the rise of new technologies has reduced costs for newsrooms, but that this has come at the expense of quality. Since most Twitter-worthy newspapers are published by news outlets without a paywall, the likelihood of poor consumers who are unwilling to pay for news manipulated by such news also increases, the authors argued.

“Because media whose content is available online for free tend to be more influenced by the popularity of stories on Twitter than those who use a paywall, the platform generates an increase in information inequality, making disadvantaged voters even more vulnerable to manipulation,” they said.

In conclusion, the authors found that opinions on Twitter-based stories do not outnumber those on original content, which they say means that too much reliance on Twitter can hamper journalists’ perceptions of what people want to read.

(Editing by Poulomi Banerjee)


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