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Facebook News Use During the 2017 Norwegian Elections—Assessing the Influence of Hyperpartisan News

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The paper at hand presents a comparative study on news use in relation to media content as posted to Facebook by a series of established and hyperpartisan media outlets during the 2017 Norwegian national election campaign. Specifically, we are interested in determining what types of news emanating from what types of news outlets that result in comparably higher levels of news use-defined as levels of likes, shares and comments-on Facebook. Results indicated that with a few exceptions, established, legacy media dominate the most engaging news stories during the election campaign, while results for hyperpartisan media outlets suggests rather limited influence. Nevertheless, the hyperpartisan media outlets succeeded in making themselves visible on the platform under scrutiny, driving attention to issues such as immigration during the election campaign.
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Accepted version paper to be published in Journalism Practice
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Facebook news use during the 2017 Norwegian elections -
Assessing the influence of hyperpartisan news!
!
Bente Kalsnes (corresponding author)
Department of Communication
Kristiania University College
bente.kalsnes@kristiania.no
@benteka
Anders Olof Larsson
Department of Communication
Kristiania University College
andersolof.larsson@kristiania.no
@a_larsson
andersoloflarsson.se
!
Abstract!
The paper at hand presents a comparative study on news use in relation to media content as
posted to Facebook by a series of established and hyperpartisan media outlets during the 2017
Norwegian national election campaign. Specifically, we are interested in determining what
types of news emanating from what types of news outlets that result in comparably higher
levels of news use - defined as levels of likes, shares and comments - on Facebook. Results
indicated that with a few exceptions, established, legacy media dominate the most engaging
news stories during the election campaign, while results for hyperpartisan media outlets
suggests rather limited influence. Nevertheless, the hyperpartisan media outlets succeeded in
making themselves visible on the platform under scrutiny, driving attention to issues such as
immigration during the election campaign.
!
Keywords!
Norway; Social Media; Facebook; Election; Hyperpartisan media; Alternative media!
!
Accepted version paper to be published in Journalism Practice
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Introduction
News media play important roles in modern democracies - perhaps especially during
elections. Indeed, concepts such as agenda-setting and gatekeeping have been employed and
honed for decades (e.g. McCombs and Shaw, 1972; Shoemaker and Vos, 2009), crafting the
basis for our common understanding of the societal roles of journalism and journalistic
practice. While the bulk of these theoretical underpinnings stem from the pre-digital era, these
and other time-tested conceptualizations are of essential interest also in the multi-channel,
thoroughly digitized media environments of today - with at least one amendment.
Specifically, while we should not overestimate their precise influence, the role of the audience
member has arguably shifted since the advent and continued implementation of the Internet
within the news media sector. Viewing audience members as “news users” (e.g. Picone,
2016), the present study engages with the issue of activities undertaken by such users in
relation to media content posted on what is currently one of the most important platforms for
media outlets - Facebook. Providing empirical data of news use practices as performed during
the 2017 Norwegian elections, the study at hand provides useful insights from a media system
characterized by fairly high levels of trust in news media and willingness to pay for news
(Newman et al., 2018) and high degrees of voting attendance (SSB, 2017), but at the same
time an increasing use of so-called hyperpartisan news sites.!
Besides detailing Facebook news usage during a period of supposed heightened
political attention as described above, the current work also seeks to investigate another
relatively novel tendency brought on or at least augmented by the possibilities of the digital
era. Indeed, the Internet and social media have introduced new opportunities for would-be
publishers who lacked the funding, the 'know-how' or the education to engage professionally
with journalistic tasks, sometimes in tandem with journalists working within what we can
refer to as established media (e.g. Gillmor, 2004). For our current purposes, we understand
so-called established, legacy or mainstream media as those outlets that adhere to the
profession’s ethical rules and, in the Norwegian context, are members of the Association of
Norwegian Editors.!
While the term 'alternative media' often invokes journalistic content influenced by left-
wing, anti-establishment ideology (e.g. Atton, 2001; Couldry and Curran, 2003), more recent
developments have seen attention in this regard shifting to what could be considered as
alternative, right-wing media outlets characterized by "ways of reporting radically different
from those of the mainstream" (Atton, 2003: 267). Indeed, just as the roles of media outlets
such as Breitbart and Info Wars enjoyed comparably large amounts of attention during the
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2016 US presidential election, so have similar right-wing hyperpartisan media outlets sprung
into action in other parts of the world. However, as scholarship into these matters has focused
primarily on the US context (e.g. Fletcher et al., 2018), more research is needed that details
the degree to which hyperpartisan news outlets and their legacy media counterparts succeed in
gaining user attention in social media such as Facebook. !
With the above in mind, the paper at hand presents a comparative study on news use
in relation to media content as posted to Facebook by a series of established and what we
refer to here as hyperpartisan, right-wing media outlets. Specifically, we are interested in
determining what types of news emanating from what types of news outlets that result in
comparably higher levels of news use - defined as levels of reactions, shares and comments -
on Facebook. Such a focus will allow for needed insights into the growth of alternative, right-
wing media in comparison to their established counterparts in a non US-context. Given the
important role of audience engagement for contemporary journalism as published on digital
platforms such as social media (e.g. Hanusch & Tandoc Jr, 2017), the paper at hand provides
useful insights into the ways in which audience engagement is fashioned during a period of
heightened societal activity. Indeed, as elections have been shown to increase news
engagement such as the types studied here (e.g. Trilling, Tolochko & Burscher, 2017),
studying the spread of hyperpartisan content in relation the ways in which news content from
mainstream media outlets spread appears as especially suitable.!
As issues of 'fake news' are sometimes used to describe those competing with
established media for audience attention (e.g. Tandoc Jr et al., 2017), issues of news
engagement and the spreading of news on Facebook are becoming increasingly urgent to
pinpoint and clarify - especially as While our current efforts are not necessarily engaging in
debates seeking to define terminology like the aforementioned 'fake news' variety, the work
presented here engages empirically with a series of Facebook presences often suggested as
'spinning’ or indeed framing news to fit a specific - in this case, right-wing - agenda. In so
doing, the study presented here provides important insights into current trends in news
engagement (as suggested by Chadwick et al., 2018). !
!
Literature review!
Hyperpartisan news media!
As alluded to previously, media environments have changed fundamentally with the
increasing proliferation of digital, social and mobile media (Vowe & Henn, 2016), the
interplay of different media logics (Chadwick, 2013) and the challenge of novel business
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models for traditional news media companies (Newman et al., 2018). While so-called
traditional or legacy media have exercised their gatekeeping roles by selecting and framing
information to be presented as news for several decades (e.g. Shoemaker and Vos, 2009),
digital media in general and social media in particular have challenged this established power
structure by lowering the bar to self-publish and to enter into the fray of news provision
(Bruns, 2003; Kalsnes, 2016). Those who have taken such steps have been defined as yielding
“media power that challenges, at least implicitly, actual concentration of media power,
whatever form those media concentration may take in different locations” (Couldry & Curran,
2003: 7). !
While the fruits of such digital efforts have often been understood as alternative
media, the term at hand is not intrinsically associated with the Internet. Rather, it has for a
long time been connotated with the left-wing activism undertaken as part of the social
movements that were established in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Haller & Holt, 2019).
Alternative media has also been defined as the production of small scale media that are linked
to the realities of social movements (but not exclusively), and that are defined by collective
practices of participatory communication within a given group (Downing, 2001; Atton, 2002).
Other terms have also been used, such as radical media (Downing, 2001) or citizen media
(Rodriguez, 2001). While emanating from a left-wing ideological standpoint, this terminology
has increasingly been used to describe new online media sites championing issues and
framings from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum (e.g. Fletcher et al., 2018).
Indeed, Haller and Holt argue that a common definition of ‘alternative media’ is still missing
(Haller & Holt, 2019) as alternative media is not only defined as an alternative in terms of
content - but also concerning production process, media criticism, professional ethos and
distribution (Holtz-Bacha, 2015) and, as discussed here, with regards to their respective
ideological outsets. Additionally, alternative media have challenged the existing practices and
ethical norms of legacy media (Figenschou & Ihlebæk, 2018).
With regards to the study at hand, we take the recent developments and tendencies
outlined above into account and follow the terminology of Fletcher and co-authors (2018)
who employ ‘hyperpartisan’ to described news media actors who champion a specific
political agenda. As hyperpartisan media could be considered as alternative media with a clear
political take or indeed frame on current events, the term provides a good fit with the types of
alternative outlets succeeding in gaining public attention in the Norwegian context.!
In relation to elections such as the one studied in the paper at hand, legacy media
actors have been considered key in providing ‘the kind of information people need in order to
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be free and self-governing’ (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007, p. 12). Even though such established
news media still constitute the most important source of information about politics and
current affairs in many Western countries (e.g. Mitchell et al., 2016; Van Aelst et al. 2017) -
also in Norway (Veberg, 2017) - recent studies have indeed demonstrated how changing news
media consumption habits among citizens are resulting in more attention being given to non-
legacy or indeed hyperpartisan media actors during election campaigns (e.g. Fletcher et al.,
2018). Indeed, a plethora of such media have emerged in a series of contexts, often utilizing
online channels and sometimes attracting enough readers to succeed in making impact on
public discourse (e.g. Haller & Holt, 2019; Holt, 2016; Storz, 2015). As alluded to above,
these hyperpartisan actors typically build their narratives on anti-system, anti-immigration
and anti-elite framing techniques and rhetorical devices (e.g. Haller & Holt, 2019). The influx
of such hyperpartisan news providers has further bolstered the challenges to journalistic
authority mentioned previously (e.g. Gillmor 2004; Siles & Boczkowski, 2012), and such
influences can be coupled with reports of decreased reliance on and an increased distrust of
mainstream media. In relation to these developments, it seems reasonable to assume that the
latter of these two tendencies is partially motivated by a perception among news consumers of
widespread ethical violations and corruption within mainstream media (e.g. Siles &
Boczkowski, 2012; Starbird, 2017).!
While mass media represent communication from a center to a dispersed mass,
alternative media such as the hyperpartisan outlets discussed here typically specialize in
narrower topics or on providing specific frames or explanations for everyday news. As such, a
curious dependency can also be discerned between hyperpartisan and established
news outlets (Haller & Holt, 2019). Specifically, Karlsson and Holt (2016) point out that
much like the general tendency visible in journalism on the web, where more and more
material is rewrites of stories and news produced by others, alternative media feed off of
content from established media as it gives them timely content, increased traffic and -
essentially - something to criticise. Thus, in addition to criticizing the mainstream,
hyperpartisan media actors simply use the material published by their competitors but
provide their own ‘spin’ or indeed frame on the issues raised. For example, Holt (2016)
interviewed a series of Swedish alternative media actors, all mainly focused on offering
critique towards what they perceived as an out of control immigration policy - as well as
critiquing the ways that immigration issues had been presented in traditional media outlets.
The ideological focus of these alternative media actors was not necessarily far-right or
extremist. Instead, the views reported were rather diverse, ranging from lapsed social
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democrats to outspoken fascists. Common for all interviewees, though, was that they
positioned themselves as self-appointed correctors of the supposed skewed view presented by
traditional media - thus clearly challenging an institution which for several decades have had
the power to represent reality to others (e.g. Couldry & Curran, 2003).The suspicion against
mainstream media is typically found in alternative media in other European countries as well
(Aalberg, Esser, Reinemann, Strömbäck, & De Vreese). In Germany, the expression ‘the liar
press’ (‘Lügenpresse’) often used by the Nazis to describe unfavorable media, has seen a
revival lately (Haller & Holt, 2019). Additionally, the growing influence of right-wing
alternative media in terms of user numbers and the spread of postings by sharing can be seen
as one example of an ongoing polarization and fragmentation of the political discourse in
liberal democracies (Müller, 2008).
Consumption of the news has become a performance that is not only about seeking
information or entertainment. What we choose to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an
indication of our social class and status, and most frequently our political persuasion (Wardle
& Derakshan, 2017). While these alternative media outlets might take bold stances, the
question remains as to how well their products spread throughout their platforms of choice -
more often than not, social media service like the one under scrutiny here.!
!
News use on Facebook!
As previously mentioned, our current efforts are geared towards assessing news use practices
on Facebook as undertaken in relation to content posted to the specified platform by a
selection of legacy and hyperpartisan media outlets. We use the related terms ‘news user’ and
‘news use’ to describe the ways in which audiences are allowed to take roles of “active
recipients” of news (Singer et al, 2011). Picone (2016) suggests that these terms allow for an
understanding of audiences as active in relation to news items that are already published
rather than being allowed to create their own content. To a certain degree, such a change in
how audiences are viewed could be considered a repercussion of platform choice, moving
away from many of the ideals associated with citizen journalism (e.g Örnebring, 2013).
Indeed, news users are allowed to be active only in the ways that are allowed for by the
platform employed for news dissemination. In the case of Facebook, we can identify three
main options that news users typically have access to when seeking to engage with news (e.g.
Larsson, 2015; Sormanen et al, 2015) - liking (or reacting), commenting and sharing.
First, liking a specific post made by a news provider has been described by Hille and
Bakker (2013, 666) as “a ‘light’ version of participation”. While this particular function has
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evolved from its original inception of a ‘thumbs-up’ icon to a plethora of reactions readily
available for the news user to showcase in relation to a specific post, the relative ease with
which the liking/reacting buttons are used is visible in other studies targeting the same
platform (e.g. Larsson, 2018a), but also in scholarship tracing similar feedback options as
they were provided on platforms predating Facebook (e.g. Larsson, 2011). While the specific
relationships between these three modes of engagement and the ways in which content gains
traction on Facebook is in an almost constant flux, the specific nature of the changes to the
importance of each mode for viral purposes remains largely unknown outside of Facebook
itself. Nevertheless, gauging the degrees to which these engagements are employed is of
importance if we wish to understand how novel actors – such as the hyperpartisan outlets
studied here – are able to make an impact in relation to their more established competitors. !
Second, Facebook features the opportunity for commenting in relation to posts,
supposedly allowing “users to express their personal opinions” (Chung, 2008: 666).
Reminiscent of the comment fields typically available on the web sites often operated by
news providers outside of Facebook, Hille and Bakker (2014) suggest that news users are
more likely to engage by means of commenting outside of Facebook. Indeed, while comments
made in relation to Facebook posts will be made visible on the platform in some way, shape
or form, such activity as undertaken outside of the platform under scrutiny are perceived as
allowing for higher degrees of anonymity - “comments on websites are certainly ‘more
anonymous’ than comments on Facebook” (Hille and Bakker 2014, 570). In comparison to
the comparably low threshold to be overcome to partake in liking, we expect news user to
engage by means of commenting to a comparably smaller degree. !
Third, while the inner workings of Facebook algorithms are not publicly known, the
practice of sharing is often pointed to as especially important in order to boost the visibility of
provided posts (e.g. Nahon and Hemsely, 2013). Much like for commenting, the sharing of
news items appear to be a somewhat complicated affair for the end users. Presenting findings
from a survey regarding news consumption on social media, Hermida et al (2012: 5) found
that 64 percent of respondents “valued being able to easily share content with others”.
However, Costera Meijer and Groot Kormelink (2014) report on survey data from the
Netherlands, indicating that their respondents “hardly share news” (2014: 10) and that the
hesitance to do so could in part stem from an unwillingness to attract visibility. Other studies
have suggested that content characterized by controversial or emotional topics lead to higher
degrees of sharing, such as immigration (e.g., Kalsnes & Larsson, 2018; Kümpel, Karnowski,
& Keyling, 2015), and clearly, the practice of sharing news is arguably a complex one.!As
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such, while sharing might be important for the platforms themselves, we again might expect it
to be a rather diminutively used feature. !
As Facebook becomes an increasingly important platform for news distribution,
traditional and alternative media actors alike are scrambling to adapt their services to fit with
the affordances made available by digital intermediaries such as the studied platform - a
process that is the source of some frustration among media actors (e.g. Kleis Nielsen and
Ganter, 2017). Of specific relevance to our current endeavours is the premise that media
actors increasingly need to provide content that succeeds in gaining engagement or indeed
“attention and amplification” (Zhang et al., 2017) on Facebook - by means of reactions,
comments and shares as described above. As previous research has shown that news content
engaged with to comparably higher degrees tend to be highly emotional (Kümpel et al, 2015;
Larsson, 2018b, 2018c), concerns regarding the ‘shareability’ of news items might yield
influence over editorial concerns when media actors plan their respective Facebook presences. !
As previous research has mainly focused on engagement patterns in relation to what
we refer to here as traditional or legacy media, the study at hand provides a comparative take
on these issues, detailing engagement patterns across legacy as well as hyperpartisan media
actors. !
The Norwegian Case!
As previously mentioned, the study presented here details news user engagement with legacy
and hyperpartisan media in Norway during the 2017 national election. Given its clear
difference from the often-studied US context (Fletcher et al., 2018), studying issues of online
news engagement in relation to legacy and hyperpartisan media in the Norwegian context
should provide useful insights regarding the spread and indeed success rate of such
comparably novel media actors. Like many other countries, Norway has also seen the rise of
hyperpartisan news sites in the last few years (Newman et. al, 2018, 92). For instance, two of
the outlets studied here, Document.no and rights.no, are characterized by championing tough
stances on issues like immigration and Islam, sometimes succeeding to reach beyond their
specific audiences and into the legacy media headlines.
Nevertheless, Norway is characterized as a more consensus oriented society with less
polarisation both in the political and media system, compared to i.e. the UK and the US, as
clearly stated in Reuters Digital News Report (Fletcher, 2017). The Norwegian media system
belongs to the democratic corporatist model as defined by Hallin and Mancini (2004), and is
as such characterized by a “historical coexistence of commercial media and media tied to
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organized social and political groups, and by a relatively active but legally limited role of the
state” (Hallin & Mancini, 2004:11). The system features weak degrees of political
parallelism, a strongly developed mass circulation press, advanced journalistic
professionalism and an active welfare state with interventions in the media sector (Strömbäck
& Aalberg, 2008: 93). Within such a context, one might expect new hyperpartisan media sites
to struggle to higher degrees than in the countries characterized otherwise. But even though
the partisan media sites in Norway reach a significant number of people, they are less trusted
than mainstream media (Newman et al., 2018: 92). On the other hand, immigration as an
issues has been amplified in the last Norwegian elections, and it was deemed the most
important issue by voters in 2017, ahead of economy and education (SSB, 2017). Thus, one
could expect immigration related stories from hyperpartisan sites to gain increased traction on
social media.
Method!
Data collection!
The media outlets studied were based on the selection process undertaken for a
previous work undertaken by the authors (Kalsnes and Larsson, 2018). To be precise, four
legacy media news organizations were selected - the broadsheet Aftenposten, the public
service broadcaster NRK, the commercial broadcaster TV2 and the tabloid newspaper VG.
The four legacy sites are the four largest new sites and broadcasters in Norway. In order to
facilitate our comparative efforts as outlined above, the mainstream outlets were combined
with three hyperpartisan news providers - Document.no, Human Rights Service and Nattnytt.
The first two of these providers were deemed as suitable for study given their popularity and
the degree to which they had been covered by their legacy media competitors (Larsson, 2019;
Newman et al., 2018; Torvik and Åm, 2017). Document.no describes itself as a “leading
online website for independent and agenda-setting news, political analysis and thought-
provoking commentaries”. The site was initially established as a blog in 2003, and has a
weekly readership of 13 per cent of readers on the political right (Moe and Sakariassen 2018),
the website consists mainly of news, commentary and op-ed articles, and readers are invited
to comment (Figenschou & Ihlebæk, 2019). Human Rights Service is among the most-read
alternative media sites in Norway, with 14 per cent of weekly readers on the political right
(Moe and Sakariassen 2018). It describes itself as a think tank and alternative news site
established in 2001 to improve integration and promote universal democratic rights
(Figenschou & Ihlebæk, 2019). We also included the now defunct Nattnytt hyperpartisan
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outlet, which succeeded in gaining media attention during the studied election but which since
then appears to have seized their activities. Nattnytt was an Islam and immigration critical
website at the time of data collection with unknown owner or publisher.
Data regarding the most engaging new stories (reactions, comments and shares per
news story by the studied outlets), not only related to politics, but all types of topics, were
collected during the election campaign with the assistance of Storyboard. Focusing the time
period leading up to the Norwegian national elections on September 11, 2017, data collection
was focused on the short election campaign (Aardal, 2011), i.e. the month leading up to the
election. Thus, data regarding news use was collected starting August 11 and terminating
September 12.
Storyboard is a “social media analytics tool for online publishers, helping journalists,
editors and media analysts to get the full picture of what stories are being shared right now”
(Storyboard, 2018). In essence, Storyboard collects data from social media services via RSS
in combination with assessing the “share” buttons for such services that are often found
embedded on the web pages of newspaper websites. While this gives us the data needed to
assess differences with regards to news use across legacy and hyperpartisan media, it should
be noted that news use performed without using the buttons as described above (for example,
the pasting of the URL of an article onto Facebook) is not included in the data presented here.
Thus, while the total share number of the articles studied are likely to be higher than what is
indicated in the following, we nevertheless argue that the approach taken provides useful
insights into news-sharing practices.
!
Data analysis!
Agenda setting research has for many years demonstrated that the issues that dominate the
agenda of the news media tend to correspond with the issues on voters’ agenda (McCombs
and Shaw,1972; Iyengar and Kinder, 1987). Voters in Norway, similar to many other western
countries with multiparty political systems, are less faithful toward one specific party and
decide late during the election campaign which party to vote for (Aardal and Bergh, 2015).
Thus, the issues that dominate the agenda of the news media, and correspondingly,
the agenda of the voters, can influence the election results (Karlsen, 2015). However,
differing from traditional agenda setting studies, this study instead examines which news
stories from the studied outlets create the most activity, through social media from news users
and potential voters, thus potentially raising visibility in the newsfeed of Facebook users. !
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Employing content analysis (e.g Neuendorf, 2002), the material was coded utilizing
topics derived from previous, similar studies (e.g. Kalsnes and Larsson, 2018; Sjøvaag,
Stavelin & Moe, 2015), and the titles are translated into English from the original Norwegian.
Specifically, the following codes were applied: crime, entertainment, election (pertaining to
the competitive aspect rather than to specific issues), family, finance, foreign, health,
immigration, politics (pertaining to specific issues rather than to the competitive aspect as in
the ‘election’ code), religion, social issues, sports, technology, weather as well as an ‘other’
category. The two authors coded the whole material simultaneously, working together in real-
time with the dataset described above. Any initial disagreements emerging during the coding
process were resolved by discussion until agreement could be reached. Given our focus on
gauging the degree to which hyperpartisan media outlets succeeded in gaining traction during
the studied election, the coding process was not applied to a previously decided number of
news items as gathered from Storyboard. Rather, we took a more pragmatic approach, looking
into the top news items from each outlet with regards to reactions, comments and shares for
the whole time periode, August 11- September 12.Thus, the number of news items analysed
will differ for each of these categories of news use. Indeed, as ‘reacting’ to Facebook posts
takes place on a whole other scale than for instance sharing, the described approach was
deemed suitable since it allows us to clearly assess the influence of hyperpartisan media
outlets within the most engaged with news items while leaving our selection criteria flexible
enough to capture the activity yielded in relation to outlets beyond the immediate top. !
!
Results!
The top news items with regards to reactions, comments and shares received are presented in
Figures 1-3 below. So as to facilitate easy identification of hyperpartisan media outlets, the
bars depicting the amount of news use undertaken to news items emanating from such sites
are featured in darker shades, while the bars corresponding to news items from established,
legacy media are characterized with a lighter shade. Furthermore, the categorization of each
news item is provided in relation to each corresponding bar. !
!
- INSERT FIGURE ONE HERE -!
!
First, the overall picture of our findings shows that, with a few exceptions, established, legacy
media dominate the most engaging news stories during the election campaign,
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while, results for hyperpartisan media outlets suggests rather limited influence. For more
specific resultats, we find that news items most reacted to, the categorization scheme provided
somewhat mixed results regarding topics, but with a clear tendency towards political issues
and towards news items dealing with the election itself. This latter category largely falls in
line with the “horse-race” frame of election reporting often found in established media during
Scandinavian elections (e.g. Strömbäck & Aalberg, 2008) - a frame that, at least according to
the results presented in Figure One, succeeds in generating reactions. Of interest is also the
finding that the bulk of the news items focusing on the election largely point to pre-election
polls bringing about disappointing results for the social democratic Labour party
(abbreviation: Ap), while the right-wing populist Progress Party (abbreviation: Frp) are
reported as doing quite well. To some extent, the placement of these news items in the very
top certainly has to do with the general popularity of the horse-race frame of reporting among
potential voters (Iyengar et al., 2004), but could also have to do with the comparably higher
levels of popularity that Frp has previously enjoyed on the platform under study here (e.g.
Kalsnes, 2016). Additionally, the stories most reacted to concern a tougher stance against
crime and immigration, topics typically associated with the Frp.
Finally for reactions, we see one dark bar in Figure One - a piece from the
hyperpartisan outlet Human Rights Services featuring a ‘tell-all’ interview with a Swedish
police officer discussing issues of immigration. Thus, at least for reactions, the results
presented here suggests rather limited influence for hyperpartisan media outlets. !
!
- INSERT FIGURE TWO HERE -!
!
Second, for sharing, as can be seen among the top news items identified in Figure Two, the
focus on issues pertaining to the election rather than political issues is tangible here in
addition to the similarly structured results shown in Figure One. While election news are
popular, the news detailed here with regards to sharing appear to not be as focused on polls as
was the case with reactions. While we cannot make any steadfast claims as to this difference,
the decreased focus on polls for the share data shown here could have to do with the
aforementioned need identified by users to manage their visibility on Facebook. Specifically,
while the news identified here as highly shared - such as problems emanating from tax issues
of Ap leader Jonas Gahr Støre - might be easier for users to share as they evoke political
scandals (Allern & Pollack, 2012) rather than the somewhat technical style of journalism
Accepted version paper to be published in Journalism Practice
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often found in relation to ‘horse-race’-style reports on polls. Further research into the
motivations or drivers of news use will hopefully be able to assess this suggested explanation. !
As for the influence of hyperpartisan content, the presence of eight dark shaded bars in
Figure Two suggests that such content is relatively more popular in relation to shares than to
reactions. While only a few news stories emanating from these types of outlets succeeded in
making it to the top in this regard, this result nevertheless suggests a normalization of these
outlets that apparently enjoyed the sharing of their news items to comparably high degrees -
comparable to their established legacy media counterparts. Of course, our data does not allow
us to say who specifically are sharing these news items - and how large their Facebook
networks are. But findings in previous research have pointed out since news sharing is not
particularly common among general users of social media, those users who actually share
news on these platforms tend to have a strong political interest, typically follow politicians on
social media and appear as opinion leaders in their own respective social networks (Karlsen,
2015). Nevertheless, the results presented in Figure Two clearly shows the influence of
hyperpartisan news media on Facebook during the 2017 Norwegian elections. !
!
- INSERT FIGURE THREE HERE -!
!
Finally, for comments, Figure Three suggests somewhat differing results when it comes to the
most commented news items when compared to the most reacted upon and shares. While the
Figure certainly feature news relating to political issues and to the election, we also see a
certain amount of ‘clickbait’ type news items - featuring health risks in relation to energy
drinks, penile injuries and thieves specializing in the stealing of sex toys. These stories,
largely reported in a somewhat whimsical fashion thus yield plenty of comments. A closer
look at the corresponding Facebook pages for each story suggests that these are largely not
comments that engage with the news item per se - rather, the comment functionality is used to
‘tag’ other users in order to make them aware of the news piece. As such, it appears that
Facebook users have adapted the commenting functionality into sharing the news - but only
with the user tagged in the comment, rather than sharing the news item on a profile page for
all Facebook friends to see. For hyperpartisan news outlets, they are not as clearly represented
here as for the most shared news items. !
!
Discussion!
Accepted version paper to be published in Journalism Practice
14
Through detailing news use on Facebook during the 2017 Norwegian national elections, we
have shown that political stories are among the most used across the categories employed.
The findings also indicate what could be referred to as a somewhat limited influence of
hyperpartisan outlets on the platform under study. In this final section of the study, we
address what we consider to be our three main findings.!
First, election periods are periods of heightened political attention, which is clearly
visible in the material at hand as political news stories succeded in creating the most
engagement among news users - in particular with regards to reactions. This finding differs
from previous, similar studies where the time frame is longer (Kalsnes & Larsson, 2018), and
where political stories did not succeed in reaching the levels of engagement among news
users depicted here. As shown in the Figures presented previously, the stories driving the
most engagement among users are negative news stories about the Labour party. The Labour
party experienced an almost historic low voter turnout in the 2017 election, a result that is
reflected in the high engagement in relation horse-race themed articles about bad polling
results for the party. Similarly, popular articles also featured the tax avoidance scandal
associated with the Labour party leader Jonas Gahr Støre. These stories were among the most
reacted and shared stories during the last month leading up to the election. !
We might consider what repercussions these results could have for election reporting.
Newsrooms will usually invest in numerous polls during election season, and when the
corresponding social media metrics (such as those presented here) suggest that such contents
appear to resonate well with news users, it is easy to see how the commercial side of the
media industries might come into play - even though such prioritizations could be expected to
be detrimental to the ability of voters to inform themselves about the election (Strömbäck &
Aalberg, 2008). By publishing numerous horse-race articles, newsrooms could thus be seen as
performing a balancing act between securing clicks and informing the news users. Confirming
previous studies (e.g. Karlsen & Aalberg, 2015), our study finds that legacy media are still
dominating during election campaigns, here measured in terms of reader engagement, but
increasingly, the hyperpartisan newcomers are trying, with limited success, to challenge the
traditional media outlets. The outcome of such challenges on the practices and prioritizations
of mainstream or legacy media outlet professionals remains to be seen. As previous research
has shown how audience engagement such as the news use patterns studied here has yielded
influence of newsroom prioritizations (e.g., Lee, Lewis, & Powers, 2012; Tandoc, 2014; Vu,
2014; Welbers, van Atteveldt, Kleinnijenhuis, Ruigrok, & Schaper, 2016), future studies
might find it useful to gauge the degree to which the themes, styles and rhetoric of the stories
Accepted version paper to be published in Journalism Practice
15
offered by hyperpartisan news outlets also become salient among mainstream media. This is
not to suggest that the latter type of outlets would become hyperpartisan overnight. Rather, we
view these result in the light of how previous external influences - tabloidization for instance -
has amended the ways in which news are presented (Larsson, 2019).!
Second, even though the hyperpartisan news outlets studied here cannot be said to
compete with their legacy media counterparts in terms of total traffic (Gotaas and Åm, 2017),
the results presented here are nevertheless indicative of their ability to gain visibility during
the studied election - mainly through shares on Facebook. Indeed, the level of shares yielded
by hyperpartisan news sites are measured at such levels that they are, in relation to certain
stories at least, outperforming stories emanating from legacy media. As discussed in the
literature review section of the paper at hand, sharing can be said to have a higher threshold
for use than reactions. Indeed, while reactions are indeed more common, the perhaps
surprisingly high numbers of shares found for hyperpartisan news stories could be seen as
indicative of a small, but very active audience inclined to share items from right wing media
sites during election campaigns. The small size of the audience (five percent or less of the
media consumers) visit these alternative, partisan sites weekly (Moe & Sakariassen, 2018)
and appear to take on comparably active roles as redistributors of hyperpartisan content as
made visible here. It should also be noted that the hyperpartisan sites have taken a tough
stance on the issue of immigration and Islam, and even though their overall size in likely
smaller then legacy media sites (the hyperpartisan sites are not measured by the official media
site ranking, Kantar Media), they are “causing public debates that extend beyond their
audiences and into the general headlines” (Newman et al.,2018: 92). While ideology has
proven to be a strong indicator of news sharing (Guess, Nagler & Tucker, 2019), strong
political interest for immigration issues can be an explanation for the willingness to articles
from the hyperpartisan sites. It indicates a normalization of these sites on social media, driven
by what could be a strong political - most likely dissenting - interest. At the same time, the
results presented here could also be due to coordinated efforts to gain attention involving
actual users as well as automated ones - ‘bots’. As this study has examined news sharing
during the election campaign, future studies could examine how engagement related to
content from hyperpartisan news sites looks like in a non-election period. Such an approach
might help adressing some of the issues raised by the work at hand. While this study does not
address and compare traffic number for legacy media and hyperpartisan media because they
are not available for the hyperpartisan sites, other studies could take that into account in future
efforts.
Accepted version paper to be published in Journalism Practice
16
Third, our study identifies that a different kind of sharing is taking place on Facebook,
going beyond the specific functionality. By tagging friends’ names in the comment section of
news stories, both from legacy and hyperpartisan news sites, users make their friends aware of
articles they should read. We can refer to this practice as personal sharing. Sharing news
stories openly in the newsfeed is declining in many countries, including Norway (Newman et
al, 2018), and tagging people could be seen as a more subtle and less visible type of sharing
compared to the default sharing function afforded by Facebook. This personal type of sharing
could suit younger news users who are less inclined to use the ordinary share function on
Facebook (Costera Meijer and Groot Kormelink, 2014). Nevertheless, the type of sharing
detected here is miniscule compared to the two other types of engagements Facebook affords
for, reactions and comments. Future studies should look into news user sharing habits and the
degree to which users engage through personal sharing – as well as what these and possibly
other emerging news user practices mean for those media professionals who seek to engage
the visitors of their social media presences.!
!
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Figure One. Top news items with regards to Facebook reactions. 45 items selected.!
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Figure Two. Top news items with regards to Facebook shares. 64 items selected.!
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Figure Three. Top news items with regards to Facebook comments. 38 items selected.
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... Research has shown that alternative media foster inaccurate beliefs about politics (Garrett et al., 2016), lead to an erosion of trust in mainstream news (Guess et al., 2021;Jamieson and Cappella, 2008), and contribute to partisan polarization (Theorin, 2019;Theorin and Strömbäck, 2020;Tsfati and Nir, 2017). Furthermore, evidence has been found that content from alternative media triggers high engagement on social network sites (Faris et al, 2017;Kalsnes and Larsson, 2021;Larsson, 2019Larsson, , 2020Sandberg and Ihlebaek, 2019) and that, in turn, the use of these platforms is closely related to alternative media exposure (Müller and Schulz, 2021). Hence, in times of APNC, users are increasingly likely to encounter alternative media with the potential to influence public opinion. ...
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... There is no evidence that left-wing media have attained a similar reach like some of their right-wing or Russian counterparts in recent years, especially on social network sites. Comparing user interactions with mainstream media content to that of right-wing alternative media on Facebook, studies in various European countries have shown that alternative outlets occasionally outperform mainstream media in terms of shares Kalsnes and Larsson, 2021;Larsson, 2019Larsson, , 2020Marchal et al, 2019;Sandberg and Ihlebaek, 2019;Schröder, 2018;Winterbauer, 2016). 1 The studies suggest that alternative media have a small, but active followership strongly committed to spreading their content. Since high share rates resonate with the logic of news algorithms designed to maximize user engagement, they are likely to enhance the prioritization of alternative media in personalized feeds (Papakyriakopoulos et al., 2020). ...
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... Compartición de noticias en redes sociales introducción Las redes sociales han revolucionado el proceso de consumo y distribución de noticias (Kalsnes & Larsson, 2019), que abandona un modelo de emisión unidireccional y adopta un paradigma de distribución multidireccional por parte de los usuarios (Noguera-Vivo, 2018). Resulta así vital comprender cómo y por qué los individuos comparten noticias en estos entornos. ...
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... Los numerosos estudios publicados relativos a la participación social en mensajes y noticias (Schonig, 2020;Kalsnes y Larsson, 2019;Liang, 2019;Bentivegna y Marchetti, 2019; Salgado y Bobba, 2019) hace pensar que la sociedad va a participar cada vez más en exponer su opinión respecto a este tipo de noticias. Por ello, se plantea la hipótesis número tres. ...
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