Social media vs traditional media in electoral coverage

Tiago André Casal da Silva

19 Apr 2018, 10 a.m.
Auditorium 1

How informative are the unmediated electoral campaigns on social media in comparison to conventional media?

According to the World Economic Forum, social media is one of democracy's greatest threats.

The ideological polarisation in social media has become a major concern, with these platforms working as echo chambers that spread misinformation, foster confirmation bias and increase segregation.

However, as a political communication tool, social media can also have a positive effect on democracy. Not only can social media, to some extent level the playing field, but it also offers candidates and parties an opportunity to bypass conventional media and communicate, directly, to a large audience.

This becomes relevant when considering that literature has shown that journalists, when reporting political events, mainly focus on strategies, conflict and political scandals instead of discussing substantive political issues. This style of reporting elections seems to increase the audience's political cynicism and reduce its sense of political efficacy. Social media, therefore, has the potential to transform political communication and originate more informative and less negative electoral campaigns.

This work analyses content from the press and three social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook and YouTube) in four electoral campaigns from different countries (US, Italy, Brazil and Portugal). The results show that the campaigns conducted by the parties and candidates on social media are indeed more informative than the news' coverage of those campaigns.

On the one hand, newspaper articles are considerably more likely to include political scandals and conflict than social media items. On the other hand, candidates and parties, on social media, are more likely than journalists to discuss and convey substantive political issues to the voters.