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Monday, June 17, 2013

Griper Blade: Are Selective Reading, Social Media Driving Partisanship?

Sculpture of man reading newspaper, made from newspapers
On the bright side, it's good evidence that rightwing complaints of "liberal media bias" are baloney. A new Gallup poll tracks public confidence in the media and finds that confidence down across the board. Confidence in newspapers is now at 15% for conservatives, 25% for moderates, and 31% for liberals. In television news, it's 18% conservative, 24% moderate, and 26% liberal. Sure, conservatives trust media the least, but if there were any hint of liberal bias, liberals would be pleased as punch with these news outlets.

According to Gallup, the trust in newspapers peaked in 1979 at 51% and has been rocky since. Trust in television, on the other hand, has never been very high -- it topped out at 46% in 1993. The reason for this drop in confidence is fairly clear, according to Gallup:

Americans' confidence in newspapers and television news has been slowly eroding for many years, worsening further since 2007. By that point, newspapers and television news had been struggling for years to figure out how to adjust their strategy for a growing Internet audience.

It was also around that time that social networking sites truly began to proliferate, causing news outlets and journalists to work to find their place on them and serving to expand the role of citizen media and user-generated content. Twitter had launched in 2006, and by 2007-2008 was growing its audience rapidly. Facebook had reached 30 million users by mid-2007 and more than 100 million by the end of 2008.
Unfortunately, a lot of this social media information is complete BS. Your crazy uncle Howard's Facebook links about Barack Obama's secret terr'ist background and his fake birth certificate are not reliable news sources. Yet a Pew study on the state of the media finds that, while TV is still the king (likely driven by local news), online sources are now a close second when it comes to the places where people get their news. Granted, a lot of that online news is still newspaper and TV reporting, but even that old school news reporting is commented on by partisans right there on the page. Further, the links to many of these stories are supplied by people with an ax to grind -- stories that back up their point of view get shared around, those that don't get ignored. Stories about snow storms and cold snaps get passed around by global warming deniers, while stories about steadily rising temperatures, heat waves, and droughts don't.

This selective sharing would result in the appearance of partisanship by the sources shared. In other words, if crazy uncle Howard keeps linking to AP articles about poll numbers and faux scandals, then someone who's not on Howard's side of the divide may begin to wonder how reliable Howard's favorite wire service can be. You never see the stories he ignores; all you get are the "Sarah Palin says Pres. Obama kicked her dog" headlines and never the "Factcheck: Sarah Palin full of crap" ones...[CLICK TO READ FULL POST]

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