Digital media have opened up far more opportunities to interact with the news and to shape the news agenda directly through posting comments, pictures, and videos. At the same time, sharing of news between friends increasingly drives algorithms that decide the type of news that everyone sees in their feeds. Participation matters and not just for those who are directly involved. But how does participation work in practice? Who is doing it most and how has it changed over time?
The first thing to say is that participation varies greatly by country. The proportion that comment on news either on social networks or on the websites of news organisations is high in Latin American countries (44% in Mexico and Chile) and Southern European countries (34% in Greece, 29% in Portugal), while it is lower in some Northern European countries like Denmark (14%) and Germany (11%), as well as in Japan (8%).
It is a similar story when it comes to sharing. In Latin American countries, more than half of online users share news on a weekly basis (i.e. 64% in Chile and Brazil), while sharing is lowest in Germany (18%) and Japan (13%).
Compared to previous years, both sharing and commenting on news in social networks has declined or been static in most markets over the last two years (see chart). One exception comes in the politically charged United States, where commenting on social networks is 3% higher than in 2015, while sharing news on social networks is 8% higher.
The general decline in sharing is surprising given the amount of dramatic news across the world, but this could be related to the growth of messaging apps we have noted elsewhere in this report. For the first time, we have started tracking sharing through apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. This is most popular in countries like Brazil (43%), Chile (39%), and Hong Kong (29%), but less popular in the US (9%), UK (6%), and Japan (4%). This type of sharing also tends to be more private and more targeted; users tend to share a news story with one user or a group of users rather than with every Facebook friend or Twitter follower.
We also found that people are almost twice as likely to share news or comment in social networks when their friends have similar political views, rather than when they do not hold similar political views or when they do not know their views. More sharing or commenting amongst people with whom we agree may make us feel good, but it may also encourage the kind of hyper-partisan polarisation we have referred to elsewhere in this report.
Reasons for Not Sharing or Commenting
So far we have seen that only a minority of users share and comment on news in most countries. To understand why most people tend to abstain from sharing and commenting on news, we asked them to identify possible reasons why. When looking at overall findings, we find that the two most cited reasons are (a) lack of interest in commenting on news and sharing news (37%) and (b) a preference for face-to-face discussions (37%).
Privacy concerns were cited by 15% of respondents. However, this was more important for Taiwanese (24%), Brazilian (24%), and Singaporean (22%) respondents. Interestingly, despite the discussion revolving around trolls and abuse on Twitter and other social networks,1 only 7% of respondents said that they don’t share or comment because they are concerned about being criticised or abused online. However, this number is higher for respondents in Turkey (17%) and Hong Kong (14%).