Social media news deserts: Digital inequalities and incidental news exposure on social media platforms

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Abstract

Some people live in social media “news deserts,” while others are embedded in online networks that are rich in news content. These news deserts represent a new form of digital inequality—distinct from problems of access, resources, or civic skills—that could foreclose one of the ways social media are believed to contribute to informing citizens and engaging them in democratic processes: providing opportunities for incidental news exposure. This study investigates incidental exposure on social media platforms, drawing on an online survey administered just before the 2018 US Midterm Elections (N = 1493). The study finds that even after controlling for key individual-level factors, characteristics of social media discussion networks play a role in explaining variation in incidental exposure. The results are discussed in light of prevailing theory about incidental exposure, public engagement, and digital inequalities.

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Barnidge, M., & Xenos, M. A. (2021). Social media news deserts: Digital inequalities and incidental news exposure on social media platforms. New Media and Society. https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211059529

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