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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Digital Democracy: How Emerging Technologies Shape Information and Public Opinion
by DeLang, Mason, Ph.D., University of Rochester, 2020, 131; 27998762
Abstract (Summary)

In the last twenty years, the rapid growth of digital and social media has afforded citizens an immense amount of agency over what news sources to use and what information to consume. But abundant evidence suggests that people are biased in both the selection and processing of news, and that these biases typically result in a strengthening of partisanship. Many believe these developments have contributed to polarization and hinder constructive deliberation on important issues.

While we share these concerns, the following chapters provide reason for optimism. Chapter 1 begins with an examination of legacy media and the democratic benefits of traditional, one-way information flows. We find that exposure to the 2004 presidential debates greatly increased the probability that viewers were able to identify a specific policy position held by John Kerry’s campaign. Additionally, the debates reduced knowledge gaps between high and low-information individuals, helping to create a more equitable distribution of information across the electorate.

Chapter 2 considers the effects of news consumption on social media. We introduce an original data set of over 100,000 news stories in an effort to identify the issues covered in news feeds on Facebook. We find that shared news on Facebook is more diverse, in terms of issue coverage, than the news produced by several prominent digital outlets. Additionally, we find that the issues covered in the social networks of liberals and conservatives are quite similar. Thus, in contrast to many digital outlets, Facebook provides news on a common set of issues to a large and ideologically heterogeneous population.

Finally, in Chapter 3, we take a critical stance against the data driven norms currently prevailing in digital news production. However, contrary to our expectations, we find little evidence that journalists strategically frame news on climate change with an eye toward reader engagement. The one exception is important, however, as we find that over 10% of climate change news still debates the merits of climate science. These stories are also among the most engaging for both liberal and conservative audiences, as measured by the number of Facebook shares and comments.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Powell, Lynda
Commitee: Rothenberg, Lawrence, Westbrook, Robert
School: University of Rochester
Department: School of Arts and Sciences
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 82/3(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science, Web Studies, Information science, Journalism
Keywords: Facebook, News, Polarization, Public opinion, Social media
Publication Number: 27998762
ISBN: 9798664787665
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