HomeTechNews and Misinformation Consumption in Europe: Abstract and Introduction | HackerNoon

News and Misinformation Consumption in Europe: Abstract and Introduction | HackerNoon

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Authors:

(1) Anees Baqir, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy;

(2) Alessandro Galeazzi, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy;

(3) Fabiana Zollo, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy and The New Institute Centre for Environmental Humanities, Italy.

Abstract

The Internet and social media have transformed news availability and accessibility, reshaping information consumption and production. However, they can also facilitate the rapid spread of misinformation, posing significant societal challenges. To combat misinformation effectively, it is crucial to understand the online information environment and news consumption patterns. Previous studies have shown that online debates often exhibit high levels of polarization intertwined with misinformation. Most existing research has primarily focused on single topics or individual countries, lacking cross-country comparisons. This study investigated information consumption in four European countries, focusing on the role of misinformation sources and analyzing three years of Twitter activity from news outlet accounts in France, Germany, Italy, and the UK. Furthermore, our work offers a perspective on how topics of European significance are interpreted across various countries. The results indicate that reliable sources largely dominate the information landscape, although unreliable content is still present across all countries and topics. While most users engage with reliable sources, a small percentage consume questionable content. Interestingly, few users have a mixed information diet, but they bridge the gap between questionable and reliable news in the similarity network. Cross-country comparisons revealed differences in audience overlap of news sources, offering valuable guidance for policymakers and scholars seeking to develop effective and tailored solutions to combat misinformation. Measuring the presence of misinformation and understanding its consumption dynamics is essential for tackling the challenges posed by the swift dissemination of unreliable information in online spaces.

1. Introduction

The advent of the Internet has revolutionized how we access information, granting users the capacity to engage directly with content and receive real-time feedback, reshaping the information landscape and presenting both opportunities and challenges. A primary concern is the potential rapid dissemination of misinformation and its far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, spanning from the realm of politics (Stella et al., 2018; Del Vicario et al., 2017; Bovet and Makse, 2019; Flamino et al., 2023; Ferrara, 2017; Grinberg et al., 2019), to critical societal issues like climate change (Falkenberg et al., 2022) and vaccines (Schmidt et al., 2018; Santoro et al., 2023). The presence of misinformation on social media has been acknowledged as a phenomenon with the potential to influence the outcomes of crucial societal processes, leading scholars to increasingly focus on addressing this issue. As a response, extensive discussions involving scholars and policymakers have been centered on strategies to mitigate the spread of misinformation, including recent legislative initiatives within the European Union aimed at compelling social media platforms to implement countermeasures (eul).

In recent years, a plethora of research has been dedicated to understanding the dynamics and factors that may influence the spread of misinformation (Ruths, 2019). Some studies have compared the dissemination patterns of reliable and questionable content in various contexts, including science and conspiracy theories (Del Vicario et al., 2016; Zannettou et al., 2018; Lazer et al., 2018), the Covid-19 pandemic (Ferrara et al., 2020; Cinelli et al., 2020), vaccines (Broniatowski et al., 2023; Santoro et al., 2023), and elections (Grinberg et al., 2019), revealing differences in diffusion dynamics and prominence between reliable and unreliable news sources. Researchers have also investigated the role of the information environment in the spread of misinformation, underscoring how polarized debates can create fertile ground for its dissemination (Garimella et al., 2021). Echo chambers, where like-minded individuals reinforce their beliefs through repeated interactions, have been explored, indicating that misinformation primarily circulates within specific user groups (Cinelli et al., 2021). Furthermore, factors suspected of influencing news consumption may include social media recommendation algorithms, which can impact exposure to ideologically diverse news (Flaxman et al., 2013; Bakshy et al., 2015; Nyhan et al., 2023; Gonz´alez-Bail´on et al., 2023), and automated accounts, which have been implicated in amplifying misinformation (Stella et al., 2018; Bessi and Ferrara, 2016; Zannettou et al., 2019).

Although there is a substantial body of literature on misinformation, most studies have centered on individual countries or specific subjects. In this work, we took a distinct approach by conducting a comparative analysis of misinformation spanning various topics in diverse European countries. This approach enabled us to highlight the differences and similarities in interest, engagement, and consumption of information over time and across European countries.

We investigated the consumption of Twitter content produced by news outlets in Europe, focusing on events from 2019 to 2022. Our goal was to offer a comparative assessment of the information landscape across multiple countries. To ensure a topic-independent analysis, we select one subject per year that has been debated in all four countries under consideration: France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. We analyzed the engagement generated within these countries and around these topics, while taking into account the reliability of the content sources. Furthermore, we constructed similarity networks based on the consumption patterns of news outlets’ content, allowing us to compare the diverse structures that emerge across countries and topics.

Our findings revealed that reliable sources dominated the information landscape, though there was active participation from questionable user groups in the debate. Notably, our networks indicated that users engage with both types of information sources. Furthermore, our cross-country comparison uncovered variations in the similarity structure of news sources among countries, ranging from a clear separation of questionable sources to a more mixed composition with no significant differences.

Overall, our results highlighted disparities as well as commonalities in news consumption among the chosen countries, especially concerning subjects of shared European interest, offering a valuable view of the topic perception across different European nations. We also emphasized the role played by questionable sources, providing insights at both the country and topic levels that can be leveraged in the design of effective measures to counter misinformation.

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