A recent study presented at the Proceedings of the Seventeenth International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 2023) that was held June 5-8, 2023, in Cyprus, Greece, examines how competing partisan news coverage, specifically partisan broadcast outlets such as CNN and Fox News, has not only increased in the last decade while also widening political polarization on social media outlets, such as Twitter. This study was conducted by researchers at Virginia Tech and holds the potential to help both scientists and the public better understand the long-lasting influence of partisan news coverage on political opinions across the United States and beyond.
“When we're talking about language that is mediatized and played over and over and over by actors who are influential, how does that affect the way the public talks about important social issues?” said Dr. Eugenia Rho, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech, and a co-author on the study. “Rigorous analysis of big data sets like this opens whole new avenues of understanding media and its impact.”
Dr. Eugenia Rho, an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech and a co-author on the study. (Credit: Virginia Tech/Peter Means)
For the study, the researchers conducted a 10-year analysis comparing closed captions from nonstop broadcasts from CNN and Fox News based on data from the Stanford Cable TV News Analyzer and the Internet Archive to tweets from users who either followed @CNN or @FoxNews or mentioned those tags. The team also included keyword searches linked with six controversial political topics: Health care; Immigration; Racism; Climate change; Black Lives Matter and its abbreviation, BLM; Police.
The researchers noted the reason why television news coverage was used for the study was because Americans receive their news from television compared to print or online outlets by as much as five times. The team found that audiences on Twitter, currently known as X, were echoing the exact language used by their favorite broadcasters within two to three months of data analysis, and vicer versa, as well.
“Part of the motivation for it has been the increasing decline of viewership in cable news,” said Dr. Mike Horning, who is an associate professor in the School of Communications at Virginia Tech, former journalist, and a co-author on the study. “They are competing against everything on the web. How can you cut through all the noise? The solution often is to become more outlandish and more rowdy. Because TV news is driven by ratings, the incentive is to make market-driven decisions that probably are not democratic.”
Dr. Mike Horning, an associate professor in the School of Communications at Virginia Tech, former journalist, and a co-author on the study. (Credit: Virginia Tech)
The researchers note how this study suggests that TV media polarization is hurting instead of helping social media democratic discussions, and they hope they can help viewers determine what best suits them for receiving their media content going forward.
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!