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Digital media and the proliferation of public opinion cues online: biases and vulnerabilities in the new attention economy
Perceptions of public opinion can influence attitudes and behaviour. Studies based on experiments show that when people encounter aggregate cues, such as opinion polls, and exemplar cues, such as ‘vox pop’ interviews, they gain a sense of public consensus about policy issues and political actors, even if the cues are not representative of public opinion. Social media have given rise to new public opinion cues, such as ‘likes,’ shares, and comments, and these have even weaker links with real public opinion. However, these new cues activate powerful social endorsement affordances and, as a result, may influence perceptions of public opinion. We trace the effects of these new cues in the hybrid media system and explain how they constrain professional journalism’s role as mediator of the public’s attitudes. Social media cues can influence audiences’ perceptions of news and politics. Journalists’ use of social media cues in their reporting can also influence audience perceptions of politics and of journalism itself. The production and circulation of cues can be skewed by disinformation campaigns based on orchestrated botnets and commenting sock puppets. Due to their influence, fabricated public opinion cues on social media can render social media users, news audiences, and journalists more vulnerable to manipulation and deception.
- Social Sciences and Humanities
- Communication and Media