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Research: Facebook Sharing May Increase Engagement in News

People who share news on social media may be more engaged, and for longer, with the news they share than those who read the news casually, according to researchers at Penn State University and the University of Connecticut.

"There seems to be growing concern that young people may be becoming more disengaged, particularly from mainstream media sources, and be more out-of-touch," said S. Shyam Sundar, distinguished professor of communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory at Penn State, in a prepared statement. "However, sharing and discussing news content on social media sites like Facebook can actually drive greater involvement with news and information."

"One of the main findings of this study is that engagement in news stories through social media requires discussion with friends on the site," said Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, assistant professor of communication at the University of Connecticut, in a news release. "Sharing the story does not increase involvement beyond just reading it on the original news Web site. Increased involvement depends on valuable feedback from friends."

The type of feedback and how the sharer perceives it is also important, according to Sundar, who said that receiving many likes and superficial comments won't do the trick. "Feedback ought to be perceived as relevant, thoughtful and engaging," explained Sundar, "in order to make Facebook users feel like they are involved in the story and influential in their network."

The researchers suggested that social media users are increasingly serving the gatekeeping role previously filled by reporters and editors and experiencing rewards for that role, encouraging more sharing in the future.

"By sharing news of interest to their friends and engaging them, the users reap the benefits of greater interest and involvement in that content themselves," said Oeldorf-Hirsch. "Those sharing stories also gain a sense of influence, which could drive them to become opinion leaders in their networks."

Asking questions, rather than making statements or not commenting on the shared material at all, encouraged greater engagement from the users' networks, according to Oeldorf-Hirsch.

"Involvement was significantly greater when those sharing the story asked a question about it rather than stating their own opinion," said Oeldorf-Hirsch. "So one recommendation may be to encourage users not only to share news stories, but to ask questions about them, or ask their friends' opinions about them."

The study involved 265 active Facebook users with a median network of 400 friends. Participants were randomly assigned sharing conditions from a set of 14, then had their posts and reactions to their posts monitored by the researchers.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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