Rethinking the Virtuous Circle Hypothesis on Social Media: Subjective versus Objective Knowledge and Political Participation

Sangwon Lee, Trevor Diehl, Sebastián Valenzuela

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations

Abstract

Despite early promise, scholarship has shown little empirical evidence of learning from the news on social media. At the same time, scholars have documented the problem of information ‘snacking’ and information quality on these platforms. These parallel trends in the literature challenge long-held assumptions about the pro-social effects of news consumption and political participation. We argue that reliance on social media for news does not contribute to people’s real level of political knowledge (objective knowledge), but instead only influences people’s impression of being informed (subjective knowledge). Subjective knowledge is just as important for driving political participation, a potentially troubling trend given the nature of news consumption on social media. We test this expectation with panel survey data from the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. Two path model specifications (fixed effects and autoregressive) support our theoretical model. Implications for the study of the ‘dark side’ of social media and democracy are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-87
Number of pages31
JournalHuman Communication Research
Volume48
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022

Keywords

  • Objective Political Knowledge
  • Panel Data
  • Political Participation
  • Social Media News
  • Subjective Political Knowledge

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