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Would those who read the Facebook News Feed be more informed than others?

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All they have to do is look at the news feed of their favourite social network to feel up to date. A title, a picture, a few lines of introduction are enough.
When it comes to information, some are content with little. They are even more convinced than those who will read the whole article that they have gone through the whole issue. An overestimation of knowledge, which is in reality partial and incomplete, which favours information malnutrition but also the development of fake news and other conspiracy theories. It is nevertheless a way of getting information that affects a large proportion of the population since 28 % of the French (47 % of the under 34s) only get information through social networks.
 
Ahe news media, whether generalist or specialized, post all their news on social networks in order to amplify the audience and the sharing of their content. UP' Magazine, for example, like its colleagues, publishes most of its articles on its Facebook. In reality, what is published and offered for sharing on the network consists of a few rudimentary elements: the title of the article, a photo and a few lines (no more than one or two) from the introduction of the article. There is also a link for the Internet user to continue reading on the media's site. This post will then be shared through hundreds, even thousands of Facebook user accounts who will then offer it to their own "friends" and so on. This is how certain information creates what is known as "the buzz". In reality, what is shared is asample information, a preview, an overview of the article, but certainly not the whole article, its argument, analysis and information produced. The journalist's work here is reduced to its simplest expression. What the media hopes is that this "sample" will be attractive enough to encourage the Internet user to go further and continue reading the entire article on the media's site.
 

Overestimation and pretense

Alas! The number of Internet users exposed to the "sample" is shrinking like a sore thumb when it comes to reading the full article. This is not necessarily due to a lack of interest in the subject. Many Internet users do not go any further because they feel that they have been sufficiently informed about the exposure of this sample. There is no need to go any further than the two introductory lines, they have understood everything about the subject and thus feel that they are sufficiently knowledgeable on the issue at hand. Worse still, this type of population claims to be more informed than those who read the entire article. An overestimation of their knowledge that could be shocking but seems to be the rule. Since most users of social networks are only superficially and temporarily engaged, their exposure to information creates the illusion of learning, which is nothing but a sham.
 
This was revealed in a study by American academics published in the very serious journal Research and Politics. The study divided a thousand participants into three equal groups to measure the amount of knowledge they had gained on an issue and the amount of knowledge they believed they had gained.
The first group was invited to read a full Washington Post article on genetically modified (GM) foods. A second group, of an equivalent size, was exposed to a Facebook news feed in which a "sample" of the Washington Post article, i.e. a brief excerpt from the article's chapter, was posted as a post. The third and final group received no information.
Finally, a questionnaire was administered to all participants to assess their "cognitive style", i.e. whether they were, for example, rather sensitive to emotionally charged information or, on the contrary, very elaborate in terms of rationality.
 
To assess their level of knowledge about genetically modified foods, participants were asked six factual questions. Five responses were found in the article and three responses were present in the "sample" Facebook post. To measure their level of confidence, participants were also asked to estimate the number of questions they answered correctly.
 
Not surprisingly, those who read the full article answered most questions correctly, while those who read the sample received only one more correct answer than those who received no information at all. More interestingly, the results suggest that those who read only the sample had an overestimated confidence in their knowledge. In addition, participants whose cognitive style is more emotionally driven tend to be more confident in the veracity of their knowledge.
 
Participants in this survey who were exposed only to the sample of information report higher confidence in their knowledge of the topic than others. A false confidence that can have serious repercussions. Not only does it make the Internet users concerned more vulnerable to false news and misinformation, but it also overestimates their actual level of information on major societal or political issues.
 

The major place of social networks for information

This risk is all the higher as social networks take a dominant place in the consumption of information. A survey conducted by Ifop last December measured the sources of information of the French. Internet and networks are the main means of information for 28 % of the entire population. This figure rises to 45 % for the 18-24 age group and 46 % for the 25-34 age group.
On average, mainstream sites are almost on a par with social networks (36% and 33% of respondents say they use them first, respectively). But here again, age plays a big role: the younger you are, the more you favour Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram. Almost half of the under-35s (47%) get their information first on these platforms.
 
This survey also highlights a very clear trend: social networks are favoured among people who adhere to conspiracy theories. Nearly half (46%) of the people who believe in several of these theories claim to inform themselves first via these applications, twice as many as those who do not believe in them at all (24%).
 
These figures should be compared with the Research and Politics study. Internet users who only obtain superficial information through social networks do not, contrary to what they think, have a mastery of knowledge on a subject. But even more so, they are more vulnerable than others to adhere to fanciful (the earth is flat) or conspiracy theories. Without wanting to make too quick political correlations, the Ifop survey also shows that those who claim to be close to Debout la France (39%), le Rassemblement national (40%) and La France insoumise (44%) are the only ones to place social networks largely in the lead as their priority source of information when they go online to follow the news.
 
By informing themselves almost exclusively on social networks, Internet users miss out on information that is often of high quality; in any case, information that is developed and argued for. This behaviour is not anecdotal, and is even on the increase. This is shown by another survey (2) conducted by Viavoice last February. 24% of the respondents believe that with social networks, it is less and less necessary to consult online media sites directly. This is an increase of 6 points compared to 2018.
 

A little exercise

Finally, let's do a little speculative exercise. The article you are reading is also available on social networks. What will appear in the Facebook News Feed will be the title (Would those who read the Facebook News Feed be more informed than others?) and the first two lines of the chapô (All they have to do is look at the news feed of their favourite social network to feel up to date. A title, a picture, a few lines of introduction are enough.)
Most Internet users will leave it at that and never go and click on the link that leads to the full article. What will they then have understood and retained? That when you keep up to date through Facebook news feeds, you are better informed than others. And that all you have to do is look at the social network news to keep up to date with the latest news?
Do you think this perception correctly reflects the content of this article?
 
 
(1) Survey carried out by Ifop for the Jean-Jaurès Foundation and Conspiracy Watch with a representative sample of 1,760 people, from 21 to 23 December 2018.
(2) Study carried out by Viavoice for the International Journalism Conference in Tours, in partnership with France Télévisions, France Médias Monde, Le Journal du Dimanche and Radio France. Interviews conducted online, from 11 to 18 February 2019, with a sample of 1,005 people representative of the French population aged 18 and over.
 

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