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Political hashtags may boost engagement, but they've been found to make some people doubt the stories they’re attached to. Given the rise of fake news and declining trust in news media, it's important for organizations to understand what people are receptive to and what turns them off. We explore the insights behind this and why there is a growing scepticism among readers.

Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, ran an online experiment featuring nearly 2,000 people, testing their responses to the presence or absence of political hashtags (#MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter in particular) in articles posted on Facebook by major news outlets including NPR and The New York Times. They found that using political hashtags to engage readers is risky, as participants tended to view the stories as politically biased.

Conservatives were more likely to feel this way, while 'extremely liberal' readers didn’t think social media news content about gender or racial issues was partisan, regardless of whether a hashtag was used. “These findings show that politicians, activists, news organizations and tech companies cannot take the effects of common social media practices for granted,” writes Eugenia Ha Rim Rho, who co-authored the study.

Political hashtags can make news stories less believable
Andrew Leu (2018) ©

The abundance of political news (whether true or not) online has made many internet users sceptical of the stories they read, especially on social media platforms. Partly due to the rise of fake news, 69% of Americans surveyed in 2018 said their trust in news media had declined over the previous decade. However, corrections of mistakes, fact verification, and disclosing conflicts of interest are some of the ways organizations can regain trust, and the University of California study provides an opportunity to rethink political hashtags for savvy social media audiences.

Sophie Robinson is a Junior Behavioural Analyst at Canvas8. She has a degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Manchester and always tries to deconstruct stereotypes of normality. When not questioning why she’s watching a short film or writing a screenplay.

12 Dec 19
2 min read

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