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News, it is said, is what people are talking about.

And how do we know what they’re talking about?

Facebook tells us.

For instance, Facebook execs were quick to tell us that 7.5 million users made 20 million interactions during the Republican presidential debate – that would be posts, shares, likes and comments. And 40,000 people sent in questions. TV was still king – the Fox Network broadcast drew 24 million viewers. But when Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter are combined, digital social networks were the places where conversations were taking place.

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No wonder it is estimated that online political spending will reach $1 billion in 2016. Facebook is even coming out with a breaking news app that will likely carry advertising with it. Research has verified that users are more likely to follow a story in the news media if shared by a friend than if coming directly from a news media outlet, so getting noticed on social media will be important to candidates and the news outlets covering them.

But what kinds of conversation about politics take place on social media? Other research shows that Facebook users spend very little time interacting with any one news story, although the debate numbers might disprove that. Still, it’s doubtful that many on Facebook – as opposed to newspaper readers -- took the time to delve into the various fact-checks generated by journalists covering the debates. And if they were following the GOP event mainly because of the Trump celebrity factor, what will Democrats have to come up with just to keep pace?

That doesn’t mean politics on social media is a superficial battle of the likes and dislikes. But if candidates want to build credibility with the Facebook crowd, they may have to get to opinion leaders and even journalists first. The latter are out there “sharing” their news everyday on the front page and homepage. Facebook could do worse that breaking news generated by those paid to put it into context – not the campaign flacks out mainly to generate likes and votes.

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Randy Wilson is editor of the Arizona Daily Sun. You can reach him at rwilson@azdailysun.com or (928) 556-2254.

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