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

  • Lee S
  • Diehl T
  • Valenzuela S
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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.

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Lee, S., Diehl, T., & Valenzuela, S. (2021). Rethinking the Virtuous Circle Hypothesis on Social Media: Subjective versus Objective Knowledge and Political Participation. Human Communication Research, 48(1), 57–87. https://doi.org/10.1093/hcr/hqab014

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