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Journalists’ Use of Social Media to Infer Public Opinion: The citizens’ perspective

journal contribution
posted on 13.07.2021, 17:35 authored by Elizabeth Dubois, Anatoliy Gruzd, Jenna Jacobson
Journalists increasingly use social media data to infer and report public opinion by quoting social media posts, identifying trending topics, and reporting general sentiment. In contrast to traditional approaches of inferring public opinion, citizens are often unaware of how their publicly available social media data is being used and how public opinion is constructed using social media analytics. In this exploratory study based on a census-weighted online survey of Canadian adults (N=1,500), we examine citizens’ perceptions of journalistic use of social media data. We demonstrate that: (1) people find it more appropriate for journalists to use aggregate social media data rather than personally identifiable data; (2) people who use more social media are more likely to positively perceive journalistic use of social media data to infer public opinion; and (3) the frequency of political posting is positively related to acceptance of this emerging journalistic practice, which suggests some citizens want to be heard publicly on social media while others do not. We provide recommendations for journalists on the ethical use of social media data and social media platforms on opt-in functionality.