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“The size of the media has nothing to do with its influence on public debate”

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Their size may be disproportionate to the influence of some media on a country’s public dialogue, mainly thanks to the contribution of social media, according to a new American scientific research, the first large-scale study in the field, which took five years to complete.

Researchers from Harvard, MIT and Florida Universities, led by Professor Garry King of the first, who published the relevant issue in the journal Science, experimented with randomly divided into groups of two to five media.

These media were invited to write and publish articles on topical issues such as immigration, race, the environment, climate change, unemployment and technology. These articles were of all kinds, from investigative journalism and interviews to comments and analysis, while readers had no idea of ​​the experiment.

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Then, using algorithms to analyze the messages on Twitter, they evaluated the impact of the articles in the particular week they ran, as well as the following. Only three small and medium-sized media outlets were found to be able to write relevant articles to increase the public debate in the US by 63% over the same policy area (environment, employment, immigrants, climate, etc.) over the same week. with the previous one.

In addition, public opinion seemed to shift more and more towards the ideological direction that the articles represented in each individual issue. Articles were estimated to influence 2.3% of public opinion in the ideological direction of publications, which means that in some cases people’s beliefs may have changed very quickly.

According to scientists, this is an indication of the influence of the media on society, but not only of the big ones, since the smaller media seem to be “heard” now, affecting the national “agenda”, mainly thanks to their reproduction through social media. media.

According to researchers, it is not only the New York Times with a few million readers that lead the public debate, but even print or electronic media with no more than 50,000 people.

Our findings show that the impact of the media is unexpectedly large. Every journalist has significant power and therefore equally important responsibility, “said King, director of the Harvard Institute for Quantified Social Science, who added that it was not easy to persuade 48 media to participate in such an experiment, 35 times.

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No difference was found between men and women or geographical areas in the impact of the articles. The researchers, however, estimated that if the same experiment had been done by major media, the degree of influence on public opinion would have been even greater.

For example, it was found that a New York Times publication on the impact of hydraulic fracturing technology on drinking water quality caused a 300% increase in just one day on Twitter on the subject. water quality.

Other scientists, however, such as Kathleen Hall Jameson, director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center for Public Policy, told the New York Times that, although original to the new research, she may have “flagged” the new research. As he said, he was confined to just one social media tool, Twitter, where dialogue cannot be meaningful due to the brevity of his messages and where many tweets are simply a link-sharing for articles.

Among the media involved in the experiment were Truthout, In These Times, Nation, The Progressive, Ms Magazine, Yes! Magazine et al.

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