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Diversifying Likes - Relating Reactions to Commenting and Sharing on Newspaper Facebook Pages

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News sharing and commenting is arguably one of the most interesting aspects of how news are consumed and interacted with online. Finding answers to questions regarding who engages in these ways, what type of content gets engaged with and why certain items are shared and commented upon but not others are of the utmost importance for those who want to navigate the complex echo system of online news flows. The paper at hand addresses the latter two of the three posed questions – what gets shared or commented, and why – in the context of the social networking site Facebook. Detailing the influences of Reactions, an expansion of the 'Like' button launched during the spring of 2016, the presented analyses find that Reactions such as Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry emerge as somewhat unpopular in relation to the original Like functionality. Moreover, while more positive forms Reactions appear to have a hampering effect on the willingness of news consumers on Facebook to engage by means of sharing and commenting, more negative varieties of Facebook Reactions appear to yield adverse influences.
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Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in Journalism Practice
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Diversifying Likes -
Relating Reactions to Commenting and Sharing on Newspaper
Facebook Pages
Anders Olof Larsson
Faculty of Management
Westerdals Oslo School of Arts, Communication & Technology
anders.larsson@westerdals.no
andersoloflarsson.se
@a_larsson
Abstract
News sharing and commenting is arguably one of the most interesting aspects of how news
are consumed and interacted with online. Finding answers to questions regarding who
engages in these ways, what type of content gets engaged with and why certain items are
shared and commented upon but not others are of the utmost importance for those who want
to navigate the complex echo system of online news flows. The paper at hand addresses the
latter two of the three posed questions – what gets shared or commented, and why – in the
context of the social networking site Facebook. Detailing the influences of Reactions, an
expansion of the ‘Like’ button launched during the spring of 2016, the presented analyses find
that Reactions such as Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry emerge as somewhat unpopular in
relation to the original Like functionality. Moreover, while more positive forms Reactions
appear to have a hampering effect on the willingness of news consumers on Facebook to
engage by means of sharing and commenting, more negative varieties of Facebook Reactions
appear to yield adverse influences.
Introduction
Connecting the communication practices of the Roman empire with the fast-paced digital
environment of today, Primo and Zago (2014) suggest that “since the Roman official notes
carved on stone to the latest news tweets posted live from an event through a smartphone,
news production and circulation have developed side by side with communication” (2014,
40). Undoubtedly, a series of technological innovations have contributed to shaping the
journalistic profession as we know it today – besides the stone tablets mentioned above, more
recent examples include the telegraph, that was employed for long-distances diffusion of
news in the mid 18th century (e.g. Heinrich 2010, Winston 1998), and indeed the telephone,
an invention that not only created the very basis of telecommunications, but that also
impacted the ways in which journalists seek out and gather information (e.g. Pavlik 2000).
Even more recent technological novelties include broadcast journalism – first through radio,
later by means of television. Of course, a brief history of the tie-ins between technological
innovations and the profession of journalism would be woefully incomplete without
mentioning the use of computers for journalistic purposes. While such use was supposedly
introduced already in 1952 (as shown by Cox 2000), it arguably gained traction in the 1980s –
a development that was further strengthened by the launch and continued expansion of the
Internet, starting in the mid-1990s (e.g. Pavlik 2001). Although it is important to remember
that supposedly technologically-induced changes always depend on the socio-material
settings in which they occur (e.g. Boczkowski 2005a, Karlsson and Clerwall 2012, 2013), the
claim made by Barnard (2014) that “technology is a key factor in the radical changes
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occurring in the journalistic field” (2014, 3) is indeed supported by a series of authors
reporting from a series of differing contexts (e.g. , Boczkowski 2005b, Boczkowski 2010a,
Deuze 2007, Karlsson, Clerwall, and Örnebring 2014, Lewis and Westlund 2014a, Pavlik
1999, Quandt 2008, Weber and Monge 2011).
Not only are these developments yielding influence over those working within
the media industry – scholars have also commented on how research into the journalistic
profession has been similarly affected (e.g. Boumans and Trilling 2015, Malik and Pfeffer
2016). More important, perhaps, is the apparent dearth of research into how media audiences
have fared in light of the previously described technological developments. Relating
especially to the comparably recent digital turn, Karlsson and Clerwall (2013) suggest that
“audience metrics have thus far received only modest attention from researchers” (2013, 67).
Similarly, Borger and co-authors (2014) suggest that relatively few studies have been devoted
to the point of view of the audience, and Picone and co-authors (2014) likewise point out that
“journalism studies should devote […] particular attention to news users” (2014, 45). Other
scholars specify these suggestions further and propose that such attention to news audiences
should be geared towards assessing the digital trace data that we as news consumers
inevitably leave behind when we click, select, share and comment our way through the online
news platforms of our choice (e.g. Ksiazek, Peer, and Lessard 2014, Lewis and Westlund
2014b). As Livingstone (2013, 28) points out, researchers need to complement studying the
potentials of new media platforms with clear assessments of how these platforms are actually
used.
The study at hand, then, seeks to provide such insights into the news
engagement practices of online audiences by focusing on Facebook, a social media service
that is increasingly employed by audiences for purposes of news consumption (e.g. Al-Rawi
2016). Specifically, the study complements the existing literature by detailing the impact of
Facebook Reactions as launched during the spring of 2016 (e.g. Stinson 2016) on the other
options available for audience feedback on the platform at hand – likes, shares and comments.
By providing “fine-grained assessments of consumers’ preferences, clicks, and engagement”
(Lewis and Westlund 2014a, 25), the paper thus follows the suggestion made by Picone
(2015) in expanding the existing methodological toolkit in order to grasp the supposedly
changing practices of news audiences. It does so by analyzing the audience activity specified
above on a series of Facebook Pages operated by two Norwegian and two Swedish
newspapers. The selected Scandinavian focus allows for insights emanating from what could
be considered as a highly advanced context when it comes to degrees of news consumption as
well as regarding use of the specific platform under scrutiny (e.g. Hedman and Djerf-Pierre
2013, Ihlebaek and Krumsvik 2014). Moreover, as a series of studies have focused on how
these and similar practices have been employed on Twitter (e.g. Hermida 2013, Malik and
Pfeffer 2016, Skogerbø and Krumsvik 2014), the paper at hand makes a clear contribution by
further broadening the research agenda to assess other platforms as well. In sum, the overall
approach taken here is inspired by the integrative research agenda proposed by Mitchelstein
and Boczkowski (2010), which among other things suggests that researchers should attempt
to bridge the gap between detailing the features offered by the platforms that media
organizations employ to disseminate their news on the one hand, and the ways in which the
offered features are used in social settings. Facbook, then, appears as a particularly suitable
platform to study in this regard.
How are Facebook news users allowed to engage?
While the classic conceptualization of an audience member is arguably one that does not
ascribe much agency to what is essentially perceived as a passive receiver of media content
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(e.g. Adorno and Horkheimer 1977), comparably later developments resulted in theoretical
perspectives suggesting a more active audience. For such later researchers, individuals were
seen as empowered in terms of selecting media content based on their own specific needs or
urges, as well as by actively interpreting and possibly rejecting the supposed implicit or
explicit meanings and “preferred readings” of mediated messages (e.g. Katz, Blumler, and
Gurevitch 1973, Hall 1980, McQuail and Brown 1972). Granted, while such perspectives
have become foundational in contemporary research into communication and journalism,
critique has been raised against practitioners and scholars who apparently still keep a more
passive view of the audience in mind (e.g. Carpentier 2011, Picone, Courtois, and Paulussen
2014). Such purportedly conservative attitudes do indeed seem somewhat at odds with the
suggested multitude of opportunities for audience interactivity and contributions ushered in
by a series of digital platforms (e.g. Bruns 2005, Castells 2007, Gillmor 2004, Rusbridger
2009) - although some might disagree, suggesting that the bulk of audience members appear
as rather uninterested in engaging in journalistic practices (e.g. Larsson 2012b, Bergström
2008, Karlsson et al. 2015).
Nevertheless, as interactivity has been labeled the defining feature of the
Internet (e.g. Downes and McMillan 2000, Kiousis 2002), the potential for increased audience
activity in this regard must be considered as self-evident. While only relatively small numbers
of audience members choose to interact as “citizen journalists” (e.g. Gillmor 2004) or under
the label of “participatory journalism” (e.g. Borger, van Hoof, and Sanders 2014), the
potential for such interaction to take place has nevertheless led scholars to suggest the
renunciation of the ‘audience’ concept – a necessity, it is argued, since the term at hand is
seen as indelibly tied in with the mass concept of news consumers, connoting passivity as
their perhaps most signifying trait. As an example of a competing conceptualization, Picone
(2015) draws on Livingstone (2003) and suggests the term media users or indeed news users
as more encompassing of the different ways that the people supposedly “formerly known as
the audience” (Rosen 2006) might chose to engage with content in the media – in addition to
perhaps creating their own. This latter mode of co-creation, arguably a key feature of some of
the earliest discussions regarding developments in online journalism, seems to have been
placed somewhat out of focus here. Indeed, Picone (2015) suggests that the user term “forms
a more natural fit for describing people that comment on articles, share stories with their
social networks, upload pictures, etc.” (Picone 2015, 128), essentially mirroring the
suggestion by Singer and co-authors (Singer et al. 2011, Singer 2011) that the digital era
audience is perhaps better understood as active recipients of news – selecting, clicking and
sharing ready-made journalistic content rather than creating their own (for similar
conceptualizations, please refer to Boczkowski 2010b, Hille and Bakker 2013). As such, we
are perhaps seeing a shift in the scholarly community – a shift that would entail the placement
of emphasis on audiences as active recipients or users, rather than as creators of content.
Granted, while this latter type of engagement certainly exists, it must be considered as limited
in comparison to those ways of engaging that could be seen as less demanding (e.g. Chung
2008, Stromer-Galley 2004).
With these conceptualizations of active recipients and news users in mind, we
need to clarify the ways in which the platform under study – Facebook - allows for news users
to engage. It might be helpful here to start out with a comparison of the mentioned platform
with the web pages often operated by news providers. Indeed, while a news web site can be
fashioned by each individual host organization to include any number of user-to-user or user-
to-content types of interactive features (e.g. Bucy 2004, Chung 2008, Larsson 2012a),
Facebook effectively constrains certain modes of engagement, while at the same time
affording others. Historically, then, three overarching types of interactions have been
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available for those Facebook users who have wished to provide feedback to a given post on
the platform – likes, shares and comments.
For likes, the virtual ‘thumbs-up’ has indeed been rebranded as part of the roll-
out of the Reactions functionality. As of the spring of 2016, liking is now understood as one
of the six types of reactions – besides Like, icons are available to express sentiments like
Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry at the touch of a button (e.g. Krug 2016). Such an
expansion of the functionality often associated with derogatory labels like “clicktivism” (e.g.
Karpf 2010) or “slacktivism” (e.g. Morozov 2011) could be seen as interesting as it at least
potentially allows for further insights into the emotional investments by media users into the
news they engage with. Of specific interest for the paper at hand is also the ways in which
such emotional reactions have influence over other forms interaction – specifically, sharing
and commenting.
Sharing, then, is often understood as the most valuable form of user engagement
from the point of view of media organizations. Indeed, as users share content from the
Facebook Pages of news organizations, such redistribution would appear to have much to do
with whether the individual article reaches viral status through “network-enhanced word of
mouth” (Nahon et al. 2011, 7, see also Socialbakers 2013). Granted, sharing has been reported
at comparably lower levels than liking (e.g. Larsson 2016a). Similarly, news users or indeed
active recipients have been reported to view this type of interaction as a somewhat
complicated one, given that the shared content is likely to end up as part of ones’ own
personal feed – a public display that might not fit nicely with the perceived need to curate and
uphold said feed (e.g. Costera Meijer and Groot Kormelink 2015), what in Goffmanian terms
could be referred to as face-work for the digital era (Bullingham and Vasconcelos 2013,
Goffman 1967). Nevertheless, user sharing is arguably coveted by media organizations given
its aforementioned potential for viral redistribution.
Finally, for Facebook feedback options, comments provide media users with the
opportunity to express their opinions through debate with others. Such possibilities for
engagement have caused some difficulty for professional journalists as the comment fields of
online newspapers are often pointed to as characterized by low quality, uncivil engagement
and even problematic utterances of hate speech (e.g. Bergström and Wadbring 2014). Moving
comment sections to Facebook, however, appears to have had an effect on such a mostly
negative view. As expressed by one of the media professionals interviewed by Braun and
Gillespie (2011) “Low-quality comments on Facebook are very valuable, because all you care
about is the person’s friends reading it and clicking on the link” (2011, 395) – a quote that
points to the often-repeated view of Facebook comments as useful for driving traffic to the
media organization web site (e.g. Al-Rawi 2016, Hille and Bakker 2014, Ihlebaek and
Krumsvik 2014).
As briefly mentioned before, the paper at hand seeks to detail the Reactions
functionality in two overarching ways. First, the degree to which this enhanced functionality
has been adapted by the visitors of the Facebook Pages of four Scandinavian newspapers is
gauged. Second, drawing inspiration from the analyses of user data presented by Ksiazek and
co-authors (2014), the suggestion by Rieder et al (2015) is followed in that we opt for a view
of Facebook post Reaction counts as measures of “attention, engagement, or resonance”
(2015, 4) among those reacting. With such a view in mind, the study seeks to assess the
question posed by Gerodimos and Justinussen (2014) - “how does an individual decide what
to share and what not to?” (2014, 129), testing for the influences of Reactions on the decision
to engage in supposedly more demanding forms of engagement like sharing or commenting in
relation to the same post Reacted upon.
The factors that influence the practice of sharing news in an online setting have
been up for discussion before. For example, analyzing data regarding the most shared articles
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from the web version of the New York Times, Berger and Milkman (2012) focused on news
sharing via e-mail. Analyzing data collected over several months, the authors concluded that
content evoking high-arousal positive (such as awe) or negative (such as anxiety or anger)
emotions succeeded in gaining leverage by getting shared through e-mail – especially in
comparison with “content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness)”
(2012, 1). These findings mirror those reported in the literature review by Kümpel and co-
authors (2015), where overtly emotional content is indeed suggested as having positive effects
on the degree to which a piece of news is shared. The current study, then, traces these sharing
as well as commenting behaviors on a different platform – Facebook. Moreover, the adopted
research design will also be able to gauge whether certain types of Reactions have adverse
effects – resulting in diminishing levels of sharing and commenting.
!! As such, by building on previous research and by relating different forms of
Facebook engagement opportunities to each other by means of statistical analyses, the paper
at hand seeks to provide further insights into what makes the online audience ‘tick’ – in
essence, attempting to uncover what reactions (if any) appear to have influence over the
coveted sharing and commenting functionalities that supposedly help online news providers
in spreading their content beyond its original recipients. !
Method
As previously mentioned, the focus of the current study is placed on assessing audience
activity on the Facebook Pages of four Scandinavian newspapers. For Sweden, emphasis is
placed on Dagens Nyheter and Aftonbladet, two dailies who are among the largest news
actors in the country at hand. For Norway, the efforts are geared towards two similar media
outlets – detailing data emanating from the Facebook Pages of Aftenposten and Verdens
Gang (VG). The selected media actors are among the most dominant sources of news for
large parts of the Norwegian and Swedish populations respectively (e.g. Vaage 2015,
Wadbring 2015) – positions that make them especially interesting to study in relation to the
topic of the paper at hand.
Besides the previously mentioned benefits of studying this activity in the
context of Norway and Sweden, the selected approach also allows for insights into any
differing audience behavior as played out on the two types of media outlets studied –
broadsheets (Dagens Nyheter and Aftenposten) and tabloids (Aftonbladet and VG). While
previous research efforts have uncovered differences pertaining to online strategies of these
different types of actors (e.g. Engesser and Humprecht 2014, Hedman and Djerf-Pierre 2013
Karlsson and Clerwall 2012, Karlsson, Clerwall, and Örnebring 2014), rather few studies
have detailed the activity of online audiences in this regard – insights allowed for by the
methodological design as described below.
Data was collected by means of the Netvizz application, developed by
researchers at the University of Amsterdam (e.g. Rieder 2013, Rieder et al. 2015).
Specifically, the service allows for exporting data from publically available Facebook Pages –
such as the ones under scrutiny here. These exports, then, are anonymized by design, meaning
that no individual user could be identified within the collected data. To be precise, every post
provided by our four case newspapers on their respective Facebook Pages between January
1st, 2016 and May 31st of the same year was gathered. The selected time period allows for
insights into the initial launch and supposed spread of the Reactions functionality. Besides
detailing the use patterns of Reactions, analysis was performed to determine the degree to
which certain forms of such feedback - Love, Haha, Wow, Sad and Angry – might have
influence over the decision to share or comment on the post Reacted upon. While the causal
flow of Reactions, shares and comments could be problematized further, our current efforts
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suggest a model in which Reactions have influence on whether or not items are commented
on or shared on the Facebook Profile of a specific user. The influences of Reactions on the
degrees of sharing and commenting will be assessed by means of a series of multiple
regression analyses. In order to provide more in-depth insights, the forthcoming analysis will
also feature examples of posts that could be deemed as especially interesting given the results
of these analyses.
Finally, while the employed research design arguably allows for a
comprehensive view of newspaper Page traffic specifically related to the Reactions
functionality, it is important to remember that what is studied here is essentially an
aggregated, accumulated summary of user experiences. Discussing a similar subject, Driscoll
and Walker (2014) suggest that “the data we collect will differ from the day-to-day
experience of any human user” (2014, 1762). As such, while data collection and analysis as
performed here will provide useful insights into the ways that news users engage with content
on social media on an overall level, the championed aggregate view cannot provide any richer
insights into individual reactions or emotions.
Results
In order to assess the spread and uptake of the Reactions functionality in relation to the other
forms of feedback available on the platform under scrutiny, Figure One features four bar
charts, one for each of the studied newspaper Pages. Here, the month-by-month median level
of use for each individual functionality per post across the studied time period is shown – one
bar for each type of functionality. Given the skewed nature of the variables under analysis,
Figure One features logarithmic scales and presents medians rather than means (as
examplified by Larsson 2016c, Nielsen and Vaccari 2013, Raynauld and Greenberg 2014).
- INSERT FIGURE ONE ABOUT HERE -
As mentioned above, medians are employed rather than means as this former measurement
will provide more suitable summaries of the skewed use variables presented. However, this
mode of presentation comes with the negative repercussion of lacking detail – at least in the
case of the Thankful Reaction type. Specifically, this particular feedback option emerges as
rather unpopular among the visitors of the studied Facebook Pages – with medians close or
equal to zero throughout the studied time period. A comparison with the mean values of
Thankful Reactions per post (not included here) provides similar results, further strengthening
the impression of this type of feedback option as rather unpopular.
Besides these initial tendencies, three more aspects of the results presented in
Figure One that are of particular interest with our current research interests in mind can be
pointed to. First, as discussed previously, the launch of the Reactions functionality can be
seen as a diversification of the ability to Like content made available on Facebook. While
such an expansion of what is arguably the most common type of feedback option available
could be expected to lead to a drop in popularity for the original Like functionality, the bars
depicting Like activity – featuring diagonally drawn black lines - are shown as positioned
high above the remaining varieties of feedback options – a placement in the Figure that
clearly shows the enduring popularity of the original, ‘thumbs-up’ Like button. Granted, these
bars do show decreasing tendencies throughout the studied period – a downward trend for the
Like functionality that is also mirrored when assessing these data by means of statistical
testing for median differences. Specifically, medians for uses of the Like functionality across
all studied Pages were tested focusing on differences between data from the beginning
(January) and the end (May) of the studied time period. Employing a series of Independent
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samples Kruskal–Wallis tests, the differences between the median of likes per post were
found to be significant at at least the 0.05 level when comparing January and May. The
biggest decrease in this regard was found for the case of Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, whose
corresponding Facebook Page received a median of 383 Likes per post in January and where
the same statistic for May had dropped to 233 (Independent samples Kruskal–Wallis test: p =
< .05). As such, while the practice of liking appears to be decreasing, it nevertheless remains
the clearly most common form of audience engagement as shown in Figure One.
Second, the bars featured in Figure One suggest that while the practice of liking
individual posts might be slowly losing ground, most of the newly launched Reaction
capabilities – Love (shown as white bars in Figure One), Haha (represented by checkered
bars), Wow (visible as black bars), Sad (dark gray bars) and Angry (light gray bars) – show
slightly expanding tendencies. As the Love and Wow Reactions emerge as the most employed
varieties across three of four studied Pages (save for Aftenposten, where the Wow type is
missing), this seems to indicate a preference for the visitors of these Pages to primarily
provide positive feedback.
Third, while the original Like functionality emerges as the dominant mode of
feedback for visitors across all four studied Pages, the differences discerned between what
could be referred to as the other two staples of Facebook response options – commenting
(represented by horizontally striped bars in Figure One) and sharing (shown as bars featuring
diagonally drawn white lines on black background) are worth noticing. Specifically, the
reported medians for commenting emerge as significantly larger than for sharing across all
studied Pages save for Dagens Nyheter (Independent samples Kruskal–Wallis test: p = > .05
for Dagens Nyheter, p = < .05 for all other Pages) when comparing the overall medians
accounting for the entire studied period. Although the size of the gap between these two
measurements differ across the studied newspapers, the results presented here corroborates
the previously discussed interview findings that suggested a reluctance towards sharing news
on social media such as the one under scrutiny here (e.g. Costera Meijer and Groot Kormelink
2015). As shown in Figure One, other, perhaps less demanding functionalities are employed
instead.
Fourth, and finally, a few differences can be discerned pertaining to the different
types of newspapers under study. Specifically, while differences in terms of how broadsheets
and tabloids operate – what types of news are offered, how online technologies are employed
– appear to have diminished in recent years (e.g. Karlsson 2011, Karlsson, Clerwall, and
Örnebring 2014), differences concerning the behavior of their respective audiences or indeed
their active recipients nevertheless appear as poignant. When comparing the ways in which
the Reactions functionality was employed on the Facebook Pages of the included tabloids
(VG for Norway, Aftonbladet for Sweden) and broadsheets (Aftenposten for Norway, Dagens
Nyheter for Sweden), Figure One shows that these novel opportunities for engagement appear
to have been more frequently utilized by visitors to the former category of publications – for
Aftonbladet in particular. As an example, we can point to the median amount of the Love
variety of Reactions per post during the final month of our study – May of 2016. As
previously mentioned, this proved to be one of the most popular possibilities to provide
feedback and as such could be a suitable point of comparison. Within each country, the
median amount of the mentioned form of Reaction emerges as significantly higher for VG
(Md per post = 4) over Aftenposten (Md per post = 1; median difference tested as significant
for the Norwegian case using Independent samples Kruskal–Wallis test: p = < .05) as well as
for Aftonbladet (Md per post = 4) over Dagens Nyheter (Md per post = 1; median difference
tested as significant for the Swedish case using Independent samples Kruskal–Wallis test: p =
< .05). As such, the combined results indicate that tabloid news users appear as more frequent
employers of essentially all feedback options made available through the Facebook interface –
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a finding that provides more insights into how news is consumed online, but that does
arguably not further our understanding of how these practices might relate to each other.
Viewing Reactions as a proxy of how news users feel about the posts made on
newspaper Pages, we seek to gauge the degree to which different types of Reactions yield
influence on engagement through what was previously described as somewhat more
demanding modes of news usage: sharing and commenting. Table One, then, presents a series
of multiple regression analyses, gauging the influences of Reactions on the two previously
mentioned types of engagement across all four studied newspaper Facebook Pages, as well as
statistics dealing with all Pages taken together.
!
- INSERT TABLE ONE ABOUT HERE -
As Likes could arguably be seen as the initial type of Reaction – indeed, liking is by technical
platform standards considered as such – we should perhaps not be surprised at the highly
significant, highly positive influences of this type of feedback on sharing and commenting. Of
more interest, perhaps, are which of the other types of Reactions that emerge as successful in
predicting the other types of news user behavior. Out of the beta values presented in Table
One, those associated with the Angry Reaction variety emerge as comparably sizeable and
positive – suggesting that news items that evoke this more negative type of emotion also
succeed in terms of receiving comparably higher amounts of sharing and commenting
activity. Such an indignation effect can be exemplified with some of the stories that reach
comparably high levels of Angry Reactions. For both countries, we here find stories on
criminal activity such as sexual assault1, terrorism2 and cruelty to animals, more often than
not domestic pets3. While these example stories all emerge from the tabloids under scrutiny,
the effect of sharing and commenting on those posts that trigger this particular Reaction is
nevertheless visible for both types of news outlets, as seen in Table One.
As for reverse tendencies – Reactions that seem to hamper the willingness to
share or comment on the posts reacted upon – these are also visible in the table. In general,
such outcomes appears to be related to Reactions Love, Wow and Haha. Granted, while some
of the beta values reported for these more positively themed varieties can be found in the
analyses presented, these types of Reactions are indeed the only ones who also emerge as
significant, negative predictors in relation to the willingness to share or comment. For
example, stories reaching comparably higher levels of the mentioned three types of Reactions
deal with topics like entertainment – such as a rather intense coverage of the Eurovision Song
Contest (particularly for Aftonbladet)4, congratulating movie actor Leonardo DiCaprio on his
2016 academy award5, or similarly congratulating the team behind the Norwegian reality TV-
series ‘Petter Uteligger’ (‘Homeless Peter’, translation by the author), on their Norwegian TV
award for the series, which dealt with issues of societal exclusion and homelessness6. We also
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
1 https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1195874620422738
2 https://www.facebook.com/137059286994/posts/10154093622791995
3 For Sweden: https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1229263550417178,
https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1250192634990936. For Norway:
https://www.facebook.com/137059286994/posts/10154278974796995,
https://www.facebook.com/137059286994/posts/10154170042871995,
https://www.facebook.com/137059286994/posts/10154296124891995.
4 https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1242588665751333,
https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1193691427307724,
https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1193801703963363,
https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1182473308429536
5 https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1183411815002352
6 https://www.facebook.com/137059286994/posts/10154262031056995
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see a series of ‘human interest’ type stories reaching similarly high levels of positive feedback
- here, we can point to a piece on creative approaches to care for and to activate senior
citizens7, as well as an article providing details on the healthy recovery of a Nigerian boy,
supposedly outcast by his relatives8. Heartwarming stories all around – but apparently not
stories that induce a willingness to engage beyond simply providing a brief token of positive
feedback.
Discussion
The current paper employed the term active recipient to describe the ways in which media
audiences are allowed to take place in the digital news realm. Granted, while the framing of
the processes studied here as merely online news consumption might be too narrow a
definition, the opportunities for interaction or engagement on part of the news users are
arguably becoming increasingly standardized – one might even say decreasing – as a result of
newspapers and other media actors furthering their activity on social media sites like
Facebook. To be precise, while previous iterations of the web would at least potentially allow
for news users to engage as citizen journalists, allowing them “more control in the process of
collecting, reporting, filtering, analysing and distributing news” (Picone 2015, 126), the
affordances set by Facebook arguably delimits the possibilities for us as news users to
primarily concern what has been referred to in the literature as the later stages of news
production (e.g. Canter 2013, Domingo et al. 2008, Hermida et al. 2011, Hille and Bakker
2013, Singer et al. 2011). As these later stages typically involve users interacting and
engaging with news that have already been published, we can readily identify the practices
allowed for by Facebook as studied here – Reacting, Commenting and Sharing – as related to
these stages. Indeed, the previously uncovered tendencies for journalists and other media
professionals to view the online environment in general and increased reader engagement in
particular with a certain dose of skepticism (Braun and Gillespie 2011, Curran et al. 2013,
Karlsson et al. 2015), limiting the more demanding modes of such interaction on their web
sites (Larsson 2012a), could perhaps be seen as related to the prioritization of Facebook.
Compared to web sites that can supposedly be programmed and adapted to offer a multitude
of possibilities for news users to engage in the initial stages of news production, the social
media site under scrutiny arguably delimits these opportunities in the ways described
previously. As such, the move towards Facebook can be regarded as a reinforcement of the
active recipient conceptualization – rather than allowing for an expansion including more
involving opportunities. Be that as it may, a more benevolent view of these developments
would perhaps view the introduction of Facebook Reactions as more than just the cementing
of roles in relation to the news product, or indeed more than another way that the service
under scrutiny can gather information about its users. Granted, the opportunity to provide
some sort of emotional feedback could be seen as a diversification of the types of
functionalities that news users appear to be most interested in, as shown by previous work on
the platform at hand (Larsson 2016b) as well as on newspaper web sites (Bergström 2008,
Larsson 2011). From the point of view of both news users and media professionals, then, the
Reactions expansion of the Like functionality could be said to allow for an expansion of the
status quo – an amendment that does not really challenge the largely accepted roles of the
media professionals and active recipients involved.
That being said, the study at hand has showed that while differences could be
discerned regarding the use levels of Reactions when comparing Facebook Pages operated by
tabloids (measured at comparably higher levels) and broadsheets (emerging at lower levels),
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
7 https://www.facebook.com/124292684247609/posts/1186874241322776
8 https://www.facebook.com/137059286994/posts/10154157279391995!!
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an overall assessment suggests that these novel opportunities for what could be referred to as
light interaction are employed to considerably smaller degrees when compared to the Like
button – and even in comparison with supposedly more demanding modes of engagement as
discussed above. Granted, the data for the study at hand was collected as the Reactions
functionality had just been launched, and as such, future research projects might find
increased usage. As for the initial phase studied here, certain Reaction varieties – such as
Thankful – emerge as comparably unpopular, perhaps due to what could be construed as a
thematic similarity with the original Like button. Other varieties proved to play somewhat
bigger parts, both in terms of use and in terms of their effect on the practices of sharing and
commenting. The previously suggested indignation effect, which proposes that news that
provoke the Angry reaction gets shared to comparably higher degrees, can be pointed to here
– as can the adverse effect shown that news gaining positive reactions, such as Love, Wow
and Haha, tend to receive comparably less attention in terms of shares. The results presented
here thus suggest that the often-repeated claim that sharing is related to emotional arousal can
be made a bit more precise – we share and comment on what makes us angry and upset, but
appear to act in the opposite way when the content consumed makes us happy. As pointed out
previously, sharing is difficult – but apparently, we find it easier to partake in such activities
when the news are of such a nature that they upset us. To speak with Goffman (1990), we
might feel comfortable with presenting our online selves – our online front stage – as angry or
upset over some societal malady. On the contrary then, and as the examples provided
previously pointed out, we apparently feel less inclined to share what makes us happy – such
as our preferred types of entertainment – with our Facebook friends. While we might provide
Reactions to these types of news, the comparable lack of shares suggest that they are largely
kept in our back stage area. This dynamic between what types of news succeed in evoking
which Reactions is an interesting one, and one that needs to be further uncovered. The same
goes for further uncovering the drivers or motivations of news sharing, where the findings
presented here have come some way in detailing such behavior, but where much work still
needs to be done.
While active recipients might not have the opportunity to make “their presence
felt by actively shaping media flows” (Jenkins, Ford, and Green 2013, 2), we can hypothesize
what could be regarded as indirect effects emanating from the activity studied here - relating
to news prioritization processes. Specifically, as news organizations become increasingly
sophisticated in terms of tracking, tracing and otherwise analyzing audience behavior on their
own sites as well as on their social network presences, it does not seem unlikely that results
similar to those provided by the paper at hand have also been reached by those responsible for
analyzing the success (understood here primarily as the degree to which a story has been
shared) of stories posted to the Facebook Pages of their respective media organizations.
Future research might be able to uncover if and how the news prioritization processes of
media organizations change based on the comparably larger share rates yielded by the types
of news that result in what above was labeled as an indignation effect. On a more overarching
level, such possible changes with regards to the prioritization of news provision might also
have more longer-reaching effects on society at large.
In closing, while the study at hand has provided important insights into active
recipient behavior in an online news setting, it has limitations that need to be acknowledged.
For example, although the results section provided examples of the ways in which certain
types of content yielded comparably higher amounts of specific Reactions, future research
might take the content provided as a starting point for analysis. Such research projects could
perhaps be fashioned as content analyses of posts provided on newspaper Pages, subsequently
testing for the degree of Reactions received for different types of content. Effort like these
could perhaps also give us more insights regarding the developing role of what can now be
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11
referred to as the ‘like’ reaction in relation to sharing and commenting practices. Again, while
the current study goes some way on detailing these issues, a more steadfast focus on content
might provide even further insights.
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Figure One. Bar charts depicting median Reactions, Commenting and Sharing activity per
post on the Facebook Pages by the studied newspaper between January 1st, 2016 - May 31st,
2016. Logarithmic scales presented.
Pre-print version of paper accepted for publication in Journalism Practice
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17
Dagens Nyheter
Aftonbladet
VG
Total
Shares
Comments
Shares
Comments
Shares
Comments
Shares
Comments
Shares
Comments
Like
.52***
.51***
.57***
.39***
.49***a
.45***
.07***b
.22***
.19***
.29***
Love
-.07*
-.18***
-
.16***
.06**
.26***
a
-.16***
-
.07***
.01
-
.11***
-.05***
Wow
-.08**
-.10***
.08***
.08***
-.02*
.17***
.81** b
.50***
.71***
.33***
Haha
-.11**
.14***
.06***
.13***
-
.10***
-.14***
.01**
.24***
-
.09***
.19***
Sad
.02
.01
.13***
.05**
.01
.01
.01
.07***
.02***
.06***
Angry
.04*
.22***
.16***
.21***
.03**
.29***
-.01
.19***
.07***
.21***
Thankful
.01
.03
.04**
-.01
.01
-.09
.01
-.09
.02
-.01
R2
(Adj. R2)
.23
(.22)
.22
(.22)
.31
(.30)
.23
(.23)
.49
(.48)
.33
(.31)
.56
(.54)
.48
(.46)
.68
(.66)
.37
(.35)
Table One. Regression analysis detailing the influence of Reactions on Shares and Comments.
Standardized betas presented.
*p < 0.05, **p < 0.01, ***p < 0.001.
a = Colinerarity detected – VIF-value for Like = 2.4, Love = 2.5
b = Colinerarity detected – VIF-value for Like = 2.7, Wow = 4.7
!
... Since social media editors, as a relatively new journalistic profession, decide on which online news stories are posted on social media accounts and in doing so, partly behave like marketeers, they redefine the notion of classical gatekeeping (Tandoc & Vos, 2016), and can even be seen as new gatekeepers (Welbers & Opgenhaffen, 2018). Whereas the success of a print newspaper can be measured based on sales figures, and radio and television news are about listening and viewing figures, news through social media is not only about clicks that generate traffic to the website, but also about the users' engagement in terms of likes, shares, and comments (Kalsnes & Larsson, 2018;Larsson, 2018). The more engagement with a message, the greater the chance that this message will be offered extra prominence by the platforms' algorithms. ...
... The few studies that specifically focus on news headlines on social media offer us the first insights into how these headlines are used to align the news post with the social media logic. What makes social media headlines so interesting is that on those timelines, they should not only aim to attract attention and attract clicks, but also to provoke engagement in the form of likes, comments, and shares (see, for example, Hermida et al., 2012;Larsson, 2018). News media want their posts to be liked, responded to, and shared so that they appear in the timeline of other social media users, thus generating a wider reach, and who knows, even go viral. ...
Article
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Social media have become a very important news platform, both for the presentation and consumption of news by social media users. News is therefore eagerly shared by news media on platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in the hope of reaching as many news consumers as possible. In this highly competitive media landscape, news media aim to attract consumer attention to these news stories by incorporating the social media logic into their reporting. In this study, we focus specifically on the conversion and accompanying adaptations of news originating from online news sites to the Facebook page of a news medium, with a focus on the (re)formulation of the headline that functions as an important element in both online news articles and Facebook posts. Based on computational analysis, we compare the headlines of news items on the news outlet’s website to the headlines published on Facebook and link these with the user engagement metrics ( N = 10,579). The findings revealed that the routine of rewriting or adapting headlines on Facebook in contemporary journalism is rather common and that this rewriting is done with an eye toward injecting elements that better align with the social media logic, consequently magnifying its impact on engagement.
... Although previous research has discussed different types of user ratings, the most discussed one is number of likes (e.g., Fujita, Kobayashi, and Okumura 2020;Kharrat, Elkhleifi, and Faiz 2016;Kavuluru et al. 2016;Larsson 2018;Northcutt, Leon, and Chen 2017). According to Larsson (2018), the number of likes indicates the popularity of a comment. ...
... Although previous research has discussed different types of user ratings, the most discussed one is number of likes (e.g., Fujita, Kobayashi, and Okumura 2020;Kharrat, Elkhleifi, and Faiz 2016;Kavuluru et al. 2016;Larsson 2018;Northcutt, Leon, and Chen 2017). According to Larsson (2018), the number of likes indicates the popularity of a comment. Northcutt, Leon, and Chen (2017) concurred with this perspective and noted that top-ranked comments tend to represent the majority opinion, because users click the like button for comments sharing their sentiments. ...
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... In that perspective customer engagement is a key to success even though the traditional media plays a major role in reaching customers, with social media presence the consumer relationships can be effectively managed. Larsson (2017) has specified, having access to different social networks and the visual aids platforms in social media were figured out as key motivating features of social media which enable consumer engagement. Further communication, enjoying, and information sharing perspectives of social media were highly discussed in recent empirical studies (Dahlhoff, 2016). ...
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