Filtering news on facebook

An assessment of users’ gatekeeper function through “liking” and “sharing” news

Examination Thesis, 2013

14 Pages, Grade: 2,0



1. Introduction

2. Facebook

3. Methods
a. Research Layout
b. Research content

4. Results
a. Netnographic results
b. Survey results

5. Conclusions and Limitations


List of references:

1. Introduction

This study examines news sharing and consumption habits of Facebook users. More specifically, it is based on the hypothesis that the authority of journalists as gatekeepers is challenged by the influence of personal Facebook networks of individual users.

In favour of new electronic media, users have turned their backs on the “ once-dominant print media ” (Urban & Bodoky, 2013, p. 809), leading to a downward spiral of traditional news media sales (MarketLine, February 2013). Simultaneously, social media networks seem to have initiated a process of returning to a word-of-mouth culture amongst users worldwide (Miller & Slater, 2000). Trends and opinions are taking shape within the realm of a global virtual place which is frequently visited by its inhabitants (Digitalbuzz, 2013). In the world’s largest online community (DNI, 2010), Facebook, networking as an “ intrinsic condition of social life ” (Miller, 2011, p. 217) has reached a level of intercultural connectedness which is unprecedented. Following this development, as with any network, it was only natural that Facebook became a living body in itself (Christakis & Fowler, 2009, p. 24) through which new routes of information cleave organically (Nel & Westlund, 2013).

Employing journalistic theories, this study asks if Facebook “friends” have taken over the function of gatekeepers who supply us with information by becoming ‘latent journalists’ who (un-)consciously use a journalistic way of thinking when sharing information. Furthermore, the awaited gratification (Johnson & Kelly, 2003, Katz, et al., 1973) of news consumption and sharing on Facebook will be examined.

To gain these insights, the present study employs the approach of netnography (Kozinets, 2010). Spending time with the subjects of research by following their daily activities on Facebook (which also involve consumption and dissemination of news) allows for a deeper understanding; at the same time invites the researcher to leave predetermined categories and to think out of the box (Schrøder, et al., 2003). Supplementing the findings using quantitative research will provide tangible data (Sieber, 1973) and facilitate the formulation of general conclusions (Ragin & Zaret, 1983, Helles, 2012, p. 345).

This study assesses the possibility of a global mindset towards news consumption deriving from social media activities; therefore, a transnational approach is an indispensable requirement. Thus this study will not only deploy a comparative approach (Ragin & Zaret, 1983) but moreover, compare two different cultures. For this specific study, Sweden and India have been chosen as showcase countries, aspiring to span as much of the global spectrum of mentalities as possible.

The aim is to answer questions of human interaction; using the example of Facebook use in two different cultures; the paths shared content takes and the relationships which serve as a vehicle to carry this information will be analyzed in the following.

The summarizing key question here is: Has the global online network culture altered who we trust, how we consume news and what information we eventually share with the world?

2. Facebook

Facebook as a networking site has been interpreted in many different ways: from being not at all influential for real-life actions such as national elections (Bond, et al., 2012) to creating a place of “ global homogeneity ” (Miller, 2011, p. 197) where sharing becomes “ a phenomenon of growing social, economic and political importance ” (Lee & Ma, 2011) which indeed shapes us (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). Mishra (2012) points out that with the global sharing culture a “ standardization of meanings ” emerged, culminating in a “ tradition of conformism characterised by the massification of acceptance ” (Mishra, 2012, p. 151). Taking this further the establishment of a global “ ideological network apparatus ” (Pandit, 2011) where territorial interests are not the driving factor anymore, seems likely. However Miller’s study on Facebook use in Trinidad showed how the platform is simultaneously sustaining and even emphasizing local peculiarities so that “ cultural differences will become more, not less, important ” (Miller, 2011, p. 218). Nevertheless, there is likeability that an ‘objective’ and external aspect of life such as news is being received and treated similarly around. In fact, sharing news could itself become an “ integral part of [the] cultural landscape ” (Bergström & Wadbring, 2012, p. 119) - especially among a generation which has grown up in the shadow of social media and in cultures where news is regarded as vital (cf. DNI, 2010; Bergström & Wadbring, 2012). Hence, looking at two very different and yet in respect of the position of news media… similar countries, can give valuable insights in the development of the relationship between journalism and news use on a global scale.

The first research question (RQ1) is: Are users sharing similar news content?

Christakis and Fowler unravel in their study on social networks that trends do not only spill over from friend to friend, but even more by traversing several connections such as our “ friends ’ friends ’ friends ” (Christakis & Fowler, 2009, p. 22) - a phenomenon which Granovetter calls “ the strength of weak ties ” (Granovetter, 1973) . 40 years after Milgram’s discovery of the 6 Degrees of Separation (Milgram 1967), those “weak ties” have been given a name: Facebook friends. The web of connections on individual Facebook networks is becoming denser and denser. The latest study published by facebook counts an average of 190 friends per person1 (facebook, 2011). These friends’ friends’ connections are extremely important in respect to what information enters our personal sphere - they do not ask whether we received that information before or not. The information simply appears, giving us a continuous choice, even sometimes influencing consumption of a particular piece of news. Hence, we are repeatedly exposed to them from various directions. Facebook ’s layout is structured in such a way that it lets the user see what his or her friends’ friends have shared, which means that maximal third degree information can enter the user’s sphere - exactly the threshold for still having an influencing effect (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). In 2012 a Facebook study, examining 721 million Facebook users revealed a significant decrease in far-off branches within the online friendship web. In fact, now only a 4-degree separation is needed to link a user to any other person within the network (Backstrom, et al., 2012). This implies an inevitably (Glynn, et al., 2011) higher density in both volume and reoccurrence of information (and therefore also news) which reaches the users’ news feed. Friends are taking over the role of search engines, creating new ways of filtering (Urban & Bodoky, 2013) the supply of information to their network, Nel and Westlund consider this development as so remarkable that they even term it the “ third phase ” (Nel & Westlund, 2013, p. 186) of internet search. Keeping in mind that social networks’ intrinsic quality is their incredible potential in creating trends and altering who we are and how we see the world, (Christakis & Fowler, 2009) this development is indeed very likely to challenge journalists’ traditional gatekeeper position.

Hence, the second research question (RQ2) asks: Who supplies facebook users with news?

3. Methods

a. Research Layout

On social media platforms, the “ focal point is [ … ] [the] individual ” (Sindhav, 2011, p. 8), hence focusing on the individual’s impact (Miller, 2011; Christakis & Fowler, 2009) on his/her network is only logical2.While any examination from the outside always bears the stamp of predetermined categorical thinking, becoming part of it can lead to an understanding of the inner nature of things. One has to gain grounded knowledge3, which can only be achieved by using an explorative approach. Applying Schrøder, et al.’s analytical perspectives of media ethnography, (Schrøder, et al., 2003) the material perspective is the basis for relating the technology individuals are using and the context of their use to the modes of experience and how they are articulated. To understand the relationship between users and their followers/friends the method of Netnography (“ ethnography on the internet ” (Kozinets, 2002, p. 62)) had been deployed. In the spotlight of this research are the facebook users’ walls: the place of mutual sharing, where they are communicating with their network and the world, and where ‘the world’ communicates back to them. Similar to ethnography, netnography requires that the researcher stays a certain time in the field. Due to a limited time frame to this study, research had been conducted over a period of one week. It is assumed that the general personal habit is slowly changing and therefore would need to be monitored either for several years in order to see an evolution happen or for a very short period where habits are fairly stable. Benefiting from the trust of my own network (Christakis & Fowler, 2009, p. 291), I used my Facebook friends to reach out to users from both countries. The sample of the present study consists of six individual users, three from each country and each gender. This number came into being because random sampling at an early stage showed that a lower sample volume would not provide strong enough data. Moreover, the dependency on individuals within the sample needed to be spread. It has been a conscious choice to keep the size at a very low level to ensure the feasibility of the research. While countries are at equilibrium in numbers, the gender bias must be mentioned and its possible influence on the findings must be taken into consideration. An additional connecting element of Sweden and India is their relatively young population (SCB, 2012, Ministry of Home Affairs, 2011). Taking a young sample roughly between 18 and 35 years of age, both address this and goes in line with the fact that it is mostly the generation of digital natives who interact online (Urban & Bodoky, 2013; Glynn, et al., 2011). As mentioned above, identifying common habits of news use can give insight into future development. Thus not only digital natives but even more so, users who have the quality of possible first movers are the interesting group to examine. In both countries, the sample consists of users from the metropolitan upper middle-class - a social group which is most likely where new developments can be observed.

Apart from the impact, it is the individual motivation which is of utmost interest. Just like in ethnographical research, netnography is a process of “ description -cum-interpretation ” (Schrøder, et al., 2003, p. 97) . To be able to interpret the knowledge gained from personal observation with the individual’s experience, incorporating “ feedback from members of the online community ” (Kotzinets, 2002, p. 65) aids to consciously avoid misleading “ data construction ” (Schrøder, et al., 2003, p. 30) . As Sayer points out, questionnaires as a quantitative method can provide strategic knowledge (Sayer, 2000, p. 21). Therefore following the tradition of comparative methods (Ragin & Zaret, 1983, p. 747), a quantitative survey based on the netnographic findings from the ‘field’ had been distributed - allowing users to voice their individual experiences. However the netnographic research had not been conducted in the knowledge that it will only serve as a “ legitimating for the survey ” (Sieber, 1973, p. 1344) but as vital part of this study which can be used as an “ auxiliary to statistical comparison ” (Ragin & Zaret, 1983, p. 747). Due to the fact that the present study had been conducted on an online social network, only data from facebook users was of interest. To reach out to those users, an online survey was broadcast through the social network itself. Approaching the Indian/Swedish network of the researcher herself and asking the participants from the netnographic study to distribute the link through their network led to an inflow of 36 answered surveys. In contrary to traditionally distributed surveys, this method did not leave any control over the demographic. In coherence with the afore mentioned age group, the survey results display that 94% of all respondents are falling into the bracket of 18 and 35 with the majority being between 18 and 29 year old in both countries. As it turned out, twice as many surveys were answered by Swedish users in comparison to the Indian sample. 14 questionnaires were filled out by users from other countries. Cause for this was the fact that a free version of the survey platform had been used. This unfortunately did not offer conditional formatting and hence did not enable a so-called ‘ kick-out ’ question which would filter Indian and Swedish answers. However, the additional data available is seen as enrichment to the study, since as mentioned before, it is concerned with the global online culture in respect to news. The fact that less answers were provided by Indian respondents might have an diminishing effect on the width of answers available. Yet in fact, the Swedish sample did not encompass a broader variety of answers, apart from the fact that it contained more individuals which stated that they are not sharing or consuming news actively. Since those surveys provide very little information on sharing patterns, the ratio of surveys allowing deeper insight in this was 10 (Sweden) to 6 (India). Nevertheless, the “negatively” answered questionnaires were very valuable by putting the research context into perspective. In general, the survey answers were relatively balanced, consisting of 53% female and 47 % male respondents. However, looking at it in more detail, the challenge due to the lack of influence on the survey demographic becomes apparent. Whereas in Sweden the female/male ratio 57%: 43% is almost balanced, the India sample constitutes 1/3 women and 2/3 men. Deploying qualitative netnographic research combined with quantitative survey data is a typical method of triangulation (Gilly & Jensen Schau, 2003, p. 390). It ensures valid and reliable results and using several techniques has tremendous advantages and the shortcomings of one method can be balanced out by the other (Sieber, 1973).

b. Research content

Addressing the hypothesis that networks are taking over the journalist’s position in contemporary news consumption in a wholesome way, one has to look at both sides: the recipient’s and the sender’s (here: Facebook network). In Facebook terminology this means “liking” (receiving) and “sharing” (sending). Thus, both the netnographic field research and the quantitative questionnaire are based on two academic models which concern either side.

In order to be able to compare the position of the Facebook network with the influence of journalistic news content, the model of journalistic News Values will be applied for the sender’s dimension. The idea is to reveal if users (unconsciously) apply typical journalistic values to distinguish whether news content is worth sharing or not. Is newsworthiness the decisive factor in for sharing motives or is sharing happening in a random fashion, according to one’s individual liking?

Due to the fluid interpretation news values experience, the traditional dimensions4 were used as background information to lead both; the netnographic research and the research design. Yet, it is not the case that those values have become obsolete. It is rather so that their emphases shifted. To name one example, Johnson and Kelly (2003) discovered that modern journalists are considering an understanding of the audience as highly valuable. Since the sender of information (the Facebook user who shares) is a recipient in the first place, the interpretive function of news content (Johnson & Kelly, 2003, p. 126) is worth investigating.

The third research question (RQ3) asks: What are the decisive characteristics of news which lead users to share them?

A classic approach to understand the recipient’s motives is that of the uses and gratification theory (Katz, et al., 1973). The needs which drive users to expect certain gratifications by our media use can, as Hajin points out, “ range from personal to community and involve a variety of social, cultural and political expectation ” (Hajin, 2013, p. 7). Different reasons have been found by the academic circles to explain why people are sharing and liking on facebook, leading to a varying number and value of gratifications identified. Mostly, researchers say, it is because people want to engage with others and simultaneously present themselves (e.g. Macafee, 2013). Glynn et al. set out to investigate the “ demographic variables and personality traits” (Glynn, et al., 2011, p. 114) which condition the use of news on social networks. However, this data is determined by very broad and objective parameters5. Hollenbaugh & Ferris grounded their research on psychological standards6 and gratifications7 which are rather subjective in their quality and appear rather pre-determined. Lee and Ma are more concerned with the “ experiential factors ” (Lee & Ma, 2011, p. 332) of sharing. They gained knowledge by using a survey which corresponds to the methodological approach of the present study.


1 Christakis and Fowler state in 2009 that the average Facebook user has 110 friends (Christakis & Fowler, 2009); this number has nearly doubled within 2 years.

2 With the worldwide increasing popularity of facebook etc. it becomes apparent that "these social groups have a 'real' existence for their participants, and thus have consequential effects on many aspects of behavior ” (Kozinets, 2002, p. 61)

3 As Glaser and Strauss summarize in the Discovery of Grounded Theory: “ Ethnography is grounded in knowledge of the local, the particularistic, and the specific. Although it is often used to generalize, it is most often used to gain a type of particularized understanding that has come to be termed "grounded knowledge" (Glaser and Strauss in Kozinets, 2002, p. 62).

4 Time, proximity, status, , dynamic, validity, identification and storytelling ability (Friske, 2008)

5 such as intensity, presence, gender or age (Glynn, et al., 2011, p. 118)

6 self-esteem extraversion, conscientiousness, neurocism, agreeableness, openness, social cohension (Hollenbaugh & Ferris, 2012, p. 53)

7 Virtual community, companionship, Exhibitionism, Relationship, Passing time (Hollenbaugh & Ferris, 2012, p. 53)

Excerpt out of 14 pages


Filtering news on facebook
An assessment of users’ gatekeeper function through “liking” and “sharing” news
Stockholm University  (JMK)
Method Project
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
539 KB
facebook, news, sharing, liking, india, sweden, comparative research, netnography, gatekeeper, journalism, uses and gratification
Quote paper
Michaela Strobel (Author), 2013, Filtering news on facebook, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Filtering news on facebook

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free