Conceptualising and measuring social media engagement: A systematic literature review

  • Review Article
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  • Published: 11 August 2021
  • Volume 2021 , pages 267–292, ( 2021 )

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  • Mariapina Trunfio 1 &
  • Simona Rossi   ORCID: 1  

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The spread of social media platforms enhanced academic and professional debate on social media engagement that attempted to better understand its theoretical foundations and measurements. This paper aims to systematically contribute to this academic debate by analysing, discussing, and synthesising social media engagement literature in the perspective of social media metrics. Adopting a systematic literature review, the research provides an overarching picture of what has already been investigated and the existing gaps that need further research. The paper confirms the polysemic and multidimensional nature of social media engagement. It identifies the behavioural dimension as the most used proxy for users' level of engagement suggesting the COBRA model as a conceptual tool to classify and interpret the construct. Four categories of metrics emerged: quantitative metrics, normalised indexes, set of indexes, qualitative metrics. It also offers insights and guidance to practitioners on modelling and managing social media engagement.

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1 Introduction

Over the last decade, customer engagement has received increasing attention in academic and professional debate (Hollebeek, 2019 ; Kumar et al., 2019 ; Marketing Science Institute, 2020 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ; Rather et al., 2019 ; Rossmann et al., 2016 ). It can be considered a “consumer’s positively brand-related cognitive, emotional and behavioural activity during, or related to, focal consumer/brand interactions” (Hollebeek, 2014 , p.149). Engaged customers display greater brand loyalty and satisfaction (Bowden, 2009 ; Jaakkola & Alexander, 2014 ) and are more likely to contribute to new product development (Haumann et al., 2015 ), service innovation (Kumar et al., 2010 ), and viral marketing activity spread by word of mouth (Wu et al., 2018 ). Customer engagement can also be linked with important brand performance indicators, including sales growth, feedback, and referrals (Van Doorn et al., 2010 ).

Acknowledging the potential of ICTs, scholars and practitioners are experimenting with new ways to capitalise on customer engagement and adapt to the new challenges of digital platforms (Barger et al., 2016 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ). Social media platforms reshaped the dyadic interaction between customers and organisations, creating spaces for digital sharing and engagement. By enabling users to comment, review, create, and share content across online networks, social media provide direct access to brands and allow co-creation processes. As such, the pervasive character of social media with its potential for engaging with customers and building relationships generated much interest in the concept of social media engagement (Barger et al., 2016 ; Hallock et al., 2019 ; Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ; Schivinski et al., 2016 ). Engaging with customers in real-time and managing many incoming customers’ big data interested academic investigation and opened opportunities for marketers to enhance social media marketing success (Liu et al., 2019 ).

Understanding, monitoring, and measuring social media engagement are key aspects that interest scholars and practitioners who proposed diverse conceptualisations, several indicators and KPIs. With the spread of social media analytics, social networking platforms, digital service providers, marketers, and freelancers developed their metrics to measure engagement with brand-related social media contents and advertising campaigns. At the same time, scholars have pointed out various metrics and procedures that contribute to evaluating social media engagement in different fields (Mariani et al., 2018 ; Muñoz-Expósito et al., 2017 ; Trunfio & Della Lucia, 2019 ). Nevertheless, many of these studies offer a partial perspective of analysis that does not allow the phenomenon to be represented in diverse aspects (Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ). As a result, social media engagement remains an enigma wrapped in a riddle for many executives (McKinsey, 2012 ). How communities across an ever-growing variety of platforms, new forms of customer-brand interactions, different dimensions and cultural differences impact social media engagement measurement represents one of the main challenges (Peltier et al., 2020 ).

Although social media engagement represented a key topic in marketing research (Barger et al., 2016 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ), an overarching perspective of the existing knowledge can drive the investigation of the state of the field, including the study of the research streams, and the analysis of the measurement tools. This paper aims to systematically contribute to the academic debate by analysing, discussing, and synthesising social media engagement literature from the social media metrics perspective. A systematic literature review approach provides an overarching picture of what has already been investigated and the existing gaps that need further research. It contributes towards a systematic advancement of knowledge in the field and offers insights and guidance to practitioners on modelling and managing social media engagement (Tranfield et al., 2003 ).

The remainder of the paper is structured as follows. Section  2 presents the theoretical background of the study on customer engagement and social media engagement. Section  3 describes the methodology used for conducting the systematic literature review (Pickering & Byrne, 2014 ; Tranfield et al., 2003 ). Section  4 presents the bibliometric analysis results, including the year in which research began, the journals that publish most research, and the most relevant authors with publications on the topic. Then, Sect.  5 classifies these studies in terms of four macro-themes, conceptualisations, platforms, measurement, and behaviours and describes the key results available in the literature. Section  6 provides a critical discussion of the findings from the literature review and highlights its key contributions. Lastly, Sect.  7 concludes the study by highlighting its limitations and proposing directions for future research.

2 Theoretical background

2.1 customer engagement.

Although customer engagement research has increased theoretical and managerial relevance (Brodie et al., 2011 ; Hollebeek et al., 2016 , 2019 ; Kumar et al., 2019 ; Vivek et al., 2012 ), to date, there is still no consensus on its definition due to its multidimensional, multidisciplinary and polysemic nature.

Several customer engagement conceptualisations have been proposed in the literature, drawing on various theoretical backgrounds, particularly service-dominant logic, and relationship marketing. From a psychological perspective, one of the first definitions of customer engagement is the one of Bowden ( 2009 ) that conceptualises it as a psychological process that drives customer loyalty. Similarly, Brodie et al. ( 2011 ) define customer engagement as a psychological state that occurs by interactive, co-creative customer experiences with a focal object. Later, focusing on the behavioural aspects, it has been described as the intensity of an individual’s participation in an organisation’s offerings or organisational activities (Vivek et al., 2012 ). More recently, from a value-based perspective, customer engagement has been defined as the mechanics that customers use to add value to the firm (Kumar et al., 2019 ).

Although the perspectives may vary, common elements can be identified in various conceptualisations. Literature generally understands customer engagement as a highly experiential, subjective, and context-dependent construct (Brodie et al., 2011 ) based on customer-brand interactions (Hollebeek, 2018 ). Moreover, scholars agree on its multidimensional nature (Brodie et al., 2013 ; Hollebeek et al., 2016 ; So et al., 2016 ; Vivek et al., 2012 ) encompassing cognitive (customer focus and interest in a brand), emotional (feelings of inspiration or pride caused by a brand), and behavioural (customer effort and energy necessary for interaction with a brand) dimensions. Also, researchers have proposed that customer engagement affects different marketing constructs (Brodie et al., 2011 ; Van Doorn et al., 2010 ). For example, in Bowden’s research (2009), there is evidence to support that customer engagement is a predictor of loyalty. Brodie et al. ( 2011 ) explore its effects on customer satisfaction, empowerment, trust, and affective commitment towards the members of a community. Van Doorn et al. ( 2010 ) propose customer-based drivers, including attitudinal factors such as satisfaction, brand commitment and trust, as well as customer goals, resources, and value perceptions.

2.2 Social media engagement: The academic perspective

Social media engagement has also been investigated as brand-user interaction on social media platforms (Barger et al., 2016 ; De Vries & Carlson, 2014 ; Hallock et al., 2019 ; Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ; Schivinski et al., 2016 ). However, while conceptual discussions appear to dominate the existing customer engagement literature, research results fragmented when moving to the online context. Scholars agree that social media engagement is a context-specific occurrence of customer engagement (Brodie et al., 2013 ) that reflects customers’ individual positive dispositions towards the community or a focal brand (Dessart, 2017 ). Social media engagement can emerge with respect to different objects: the community, representing other customers in the network, and the brand (Dessart, 2017 ). Furthermore, antecedents and consequences of social media engagement have been identified to understand why customers interact on social media and the possible outcomes (Barger et al., 2016 ), such as loyalty, satisfaction, trust, and commitment (Van Doorn et al., 2010 ).

In continuity with literature on customer engagement, also social media engagement can be traced back to affective, cognitive, and behavioural dimensions (Van Doorn et al., 2010 ). Most of the literature focuses on the behavioural dimension as it can be expressed through actions such as liking, commenting, sharing, and viewing contents from a brand (Barger et al., 2016 ; Muntinga et al., 2011 ; Oh et al., 2017 ; Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ; Rietveld et al., 2020 ; Schivinski et al., 2016 ). It is worth pointing out that not all these actions determine the same level of engagement. Schivinski et al. ( 2016 ) in the COBRA (Consumer Online Brand Related Activities) Model differentiate between three levels of social media engagement: consumption, contribution, and creation. Consumption constitutes the minimum level of engagement and is the most common brand-related activity among customers (e.g., viewing brand-related audio, video, or pictures). Contribution denotes the response in peer-to-peer interactions related to brands (e.g., liking, sharing, commenting on brand-related contents). Creation is the most substantial level of the online brand-related activities that occur when customers spontaneously participate in customising the brand experiences (e.g., publishing brand-related content, uploading brand-related video, pictures, audio or writing brand-related articles). Starting from these social media actions, scholars attempted to measure social media engagement in several ways developing scales, indexes, and metrics (Harrigan et al., 2017 ; Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ; Schivinski et al., 2016 ; Trunfio & Della Lucia, 2019 ). Nevertheless, many of these studies offer a partial perspective of analysis that does not allow the phenomenon to be represented in its diverse aspects (Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ). Researchers have also examined emotional and cognitive dimensions (Dessart, 2017 ) as essential components of social media engagement that lead to positive brand outcomes (Loureiro et al., 2017 ).

2.3 Social media engagement: The practitioners’ perspective

In business practice, the concept of customer engagement appeared for the first time in 2006 when the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), in conjunction with the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers, defined it as a turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context (ARF, 2006 ) . Later, several consulting firms tried to give their definition emphasising different aspects and perspectives. For example, in 2008, Forrester Consulting, an American market research company, defined customer engagement as a way to create ‘deep connections with customers that drive purchase decisions, interaction, and participation over time’ (Forrester Consulting, 2008 , p.4). Gallup Consulting identified four levels of customer engagement and defined it as an emotional connection between customers and companies (Gallup Consulting, 2009 ). Similarly, the famous American software provider Hubspot ( 2014 ) identified social media engagement as ‘ the ongoing interactions between company and customer, offered by the company, chosen by the customer’ (Hubspot, 2014 , p.1).

With the increasing spread of social networks and their exploitation as an important marketing tool, practitioners recognised a clear linkage between customer engagement and the metrics to assess digital strategy success. Over time, social networking platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube, developed their metrics to measure engagement with brand-related social media contents and advertising campaigns (Table 1 ).

With the spread of social media analytics, platforms and digital service providers developed dashboards and analytical indicators to assess, measure and monitor the engagement generated by social media marketing activities (Table 2 ). At the same time, many bloggers, marketers, and freelancers have weighed in on the topic, enriching the debate with new contributions.

As a result, while scholars still have to agree upon a shared definition of social media engagement, marketers have recognised it as one of the most important online outcome companies need to deliver with social media and a key metric to assess social media strategy success . Despite the growing interest in business practice and its solid traditional theoretical roots, most of the existing literature on social media engagement offers only conceptual guidelines (Barger et al., 2016 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ). The measurement of engagement in social media and its financial impact remains an enigma wrapped in a riddle for many executives (McKinsey, 2012 ) and requires further investigations. Mainly, how new and emerging platforms, new forms of customer-brand interactions, different dimensions, and cultural differences impact social media engagement measurement remains an understudied phenomenon (Peltier et al., 2020 ).

3 Methodology

The literature review is one of the most appropriate research methods, which aims to map the relevant literature identifying the potential research gaps that need further research to contribute towards a systematic advancement of new knowledge in the field (Tranfield et al., 2003 ). This research is built upon the rigorous, transparent, and reproducible protocol of the systematic literature review as a scientific and transparent process that reduces the selection bias through an exhaustive literature search (Pencarelli & Mele, 2019 ; Pickering & Byrne, 2014 ; Tranfield et al., 2003 ). Building on recent studies (Inamdar et al., 2020 ; Linnenluecke et al., 2020 ; Phulwani et al., 2020 ), in addition to the systematic literature review, a bibliometric analysis (Li et al., 2017 ) was also performed to provide greater comprehensions into the field's current state and highlight the future research directions.

3.1 Database, keywords, inclusion, and exclusion criteria

To conduct a literature review, quality journals are considered the basis for selecting quality publications (Wallace & Wray, 2016 ). Therefore, the database Scopus, run by Elsevier Publishing, was considered to search for relevant literature, being the most significant abstract and citation source database used in recent reviews.

When conducting a literature review, a fundamental issue is determining the keywords that allow identifying the papers (Aveyard, 2007 ). To address it, the most frequently used keywords in peer-reviewed literature have been under investigation. As such, the following research chain was used: “Social media” “Engagement” AND “metric*”, searching under title, abstract, and keywords.

The systematic literature review protocol (Fig.  1 ) has been conducted on the 26 th of March 2020. The study considers an open starting time to trace back to the origin of social media engagement metrics research up to late March 2020. The initial search attempts identified 259 documents.

figure 1

The systematic literature review protocol

After the articles’ identification, criteria for inclusion and exclusion were adopted. First, the 259 articles were screened, considering English-language articles published in peer-reviewed academic journals to safeguard the quality and effectiveness of the review. Due to variability in the peer-review process and their limited availability, book reviews, editorials, and papers from conference proceedings were excluded from this research. After the screening, a sample of 157 papers was obtained.

Afterwards, the full text of these papers was reviewed to assess eligible articles. As a result, 116 articles were excluded because their subject matter was not closely related to the topic of social media engagement metrics. In detail, papers were excluded when: 1) they mainly focused on social media engagement but superficially touched the metrics or 2) they mainly focused on metrics but superficially touched on social media engagement. In the end, 41 eligible articles were identified.

3.2 Analysis tools

The relevant data of the 41 documents in the final sample were saved and organised in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to include all the essential paper information such as paper title, authors’ names, and affiliations, abstract, keywords and references. Then, adopting the bibliometrics analysis method (Aria & Cuccurullo, 2017 ), the R-Tool ‘Biblioshiny for Bibliometrix’ was used to perform a comprehensive bibliometric analysis. Bibliometrix is a recent R-package that facilitates a more complete bibliometric analysis, employing specific tools for both bibliometric and scientometric quantitative research (Aria & Cuccurullo, 2017 ; Dervis, 2019 ; Jalal, 2019 ).

4 An overview of social media engagement metrics research.

The bibliometric analysis provided information on the 41 articles, allowing to highlight the significance of the topic.

4.1 Publication trend

The number of annual publications shows a rollercoaster trend (Fig.  2 ). Although the first relevant paper was published in 2013, only since 2016 publications begun to increase significantly with a slight decrease in 2018. This renders social media engagement metrics a relatively young research field.

figure 2

Timeline of the studies (January 2013- March 2020)

It is worth pointing out that the articles extraction was done in March 2020: this explains the low number of articles published in 2020.

4.2 Most relevant sources

When looking at the Journal sources overview, the analysis revealed 34 journals covering different fields, including marketing, management, economics, tourism and hospitality, engineering, communication, and technology. As shown in Fig.  3 , only four journals have more than two publications: Internet Research , Journal of Engineering and Applied Sciences , International Journal of Sports Marketing and Sponsorship. and Online Information Review .

figure 3

Most relevant sources

4.3 Seminal papers

Interesting findings emerged considering the most global cited documents that allow identifying the seminal articles in according to the timeliness, utility and quality, expressed by the scientific community (Okubo, 1997 ). The number of citations an article receives, and the studies cited in an article are two of the most popular bibliometric indicators used to determine the popularity of a publication.

Figure  4 shows the number of author citations for each article, identifying as seminal works: Malthouse’s (2013) paper ‘ Managing Customer Relationships in the Social Media Era: Introducing the Social CRM House’ with 278 global citations; Sabate’s (2014) paper ‘Factors influencing popularity of branded content in Facebook fan pages’ with 145 global citations; Mariani’s (2016) paper ‘ Facebook as a destination marketing tool: Evidence from Italian regional Destination Management Organizations ’ with 104 global citations; Oh’s (2017) paper ‘ Beyond likes and tweets: Consumer engagement behavior and movie box office in social media ’ with 54 global citations; Colicev’s (2018)’ Improving consumer mindset metrics and shareholder value through social media: The different roles of owned and earned media ’ with 39 global citations; Rossmann’s (2016) ‘ Drivers of user engagement in eWoM communication ’ with 35 global citations; Oviedo-Garcia’s (2014) ‘ Metric proposal for customer engagement in Facebook’ with 33 global citations .

figure 4

Most cited articles

The analysis of the papers reviewed revealed that the theme of social media engagement metrics turns out to be a hot topic and a newly emerging stream of research.

5 Social media engagement: areas of investigation

In recent years social media engagement has gained relevance in academic research, and many scholars have questioned its measurement, intensifying the academic debate with ever new contributions. Following previous studies, a comprehensive analysis allows framing the following categories of broad research subjects, used to conduct the subsequent systematic literature review (Fig.  5 ): (1) conceptualisation, (2) platforms, (3) measurement and (4) behaviours. All 41 articles were analysed according to the proposed scheme.

figure 5

Areas of investigation

5.1 Investigating social media engagement

What emerges from the analysis of the 41 papers is that scholars used different approaches and methodologies to conceptualise and measure engagement in the digital context of social media.

As shown in Fig.  6 , most studies (66%) employ quantitative methodologies. For instance, Yoon et al. ( 2018 ) explored the relationship between digital engagement metrics and financial performance in terms of company revenue, confirming that customer engagement on a company’s Facebook fan page can influence revenue. Colicev et al. ( 2018 ) developed three social media metrics, including engagement, to study the effects of earned social media and owned social media on brand awareness, purchase intention, and customer satisfaction. In comparison, Wang and Kubickova ( 2017 ) examined factors affecting the engagement metrics of Facebook fan pages in the Northeast America hotel industry, factors such as time-of-day, day-of-week, age, gender and distance between the hotel and users’ origin of residence. They also analysed the impact of Facebook engagement on electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM), to better understand the importance of the engagement metrics within the hospitality context.

figure 6

Classification of the 41 articles based on the methodology applied

From a qualitative point of view (17% of the papers), Hallock et al. ( 2019 ) used a case study approach to understand the firm perspective on social media engagement metrics, shedding light on how companies view engagement with social media as measurable metrics of customer interactions with the platform. Conversely, Michopoulou and Moisa ( 2019 ) used the same approach to investigate the use of social media marketing metrics and practices in the U.K. hotel industry.

Only a small part of the studies analysed (10% of the papers) explores social media engagement from a purely conceptual perspective. In this sense, Oviedo-Garcìa et al. ( 2014 ) and Muñoz-Expósito et al. ( 2017 ) directly identified social media engagement metrics for Facebook and Twitter, providing fascinating insights for scholars and practitioners.

Finally, among the papers analysed, only three studies (7% of the papers) use mixed methodologies to explore the phenomenon from qualitative and quantitative perspectives.

5.2 Defining social media engagement

Researchers identified 30 unique definitions of engagement applied to the social media context. Multiple definitions used several terms when defining engagement on social media. They were not singular and straightforward but were interspersed with various key terms and overlapping concepts, as presented in Table 3 .

The presence of synonymous terms directly addresses the lack of a standard definition and the challenges that this presents to researchers and practitioners in the field (Table 4 ).

As a relevant result, most authors focus on its behavioural manifestation (22% of the studies) resulting from motivational drivers when defining social media engagement. It is considered as the active behavioural efforts that both existing and potential customers exert toward online brand-related content (Yoon et al., 2018 ). It involves various activities that range from consuming content, participating in discussions, and interacting with other customers to digital buying (Oh et al., 2017 ; Yoon et al., 2018 ). Similarly, in addition to the behavioural manifestations, other scholars (12%) focus on the emotional connection expressed through the intensity of interactions and their implications, toward the offers and activities of a brand, product, or firm, regardless of whether it is initiated by the individual or by the firm (Muñoz-Expósito et al., 2017 ).

Shifting the observation lens from the customers to the firms, another group of scholars (10% of the studies) define social media engagement as the non-monetary return that derives from the online marketing strategies of brands (Khan, 2017 ; Medjani et al., 2019 ; Michopoulou & Moisa, 2019 ). In this case, engagement is viewed exclusively as a non-financial metric and as a measure of the performance of social media marketing activities.

Lastly, a small percentage of studies (10% of the studies) considers engagement as the number of people who acknowledge agreement or preference for content, who participate in creating, sharing and using content (Colicev et al., 2018 ; Li et al., 2019 ; Rahman et al., 2017 ).

5.3 Social Media Platforms

In a total of 41 articles reviewed, 85% of studies mention the platforms analysed, as shown in Table 5 . Facebook is the most popular platform analysed, followed by Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Instagram. These results were rather expected, given the fact that Facebook, with 2.6 billion monthly active users (Facebook, May 2020), is the most popular social media platform worldwide.

An interesting finding is that there are several articles (15% of the studies) which do not refer to a specific platform or that consider all the platforms together, when measuring social media engagement (e.g., Hallock et al., 2019 ; Medjani et al., 2019 ). This is interesting, given that each social network has different features that make the engagement measurement unique and not replicable.

5.4 Measuring social media engagement

The systematic literature review confirms that there is no theoretical certainty or solid consensus among scholars about measuring engagement on social media.

As can be seen from Table 6 , studies on social media engagement metrics can be grouped and classified into four macro-categories. The first group of studies, namely ‘quantitative metrics’, which is also the most numerous (66% of the studies), attempts to propose a simplistic assessment of the impact of social media engagement, based on the number of comments, likes, shares, followers etc. (Khan et al., 2019 ; Medjani et al., 2019 ; Yoon et al., 2018 ).

The second group of studies (17% of the studies), namely ‘normalised indexes’, provide a quantitative evaluation of the engagement a content generates in relation to the number of people to whom that content has been displayed. In this way, it is possible to obtain an average measure of the users’ engagement, dividing the total actions of interest by the total number of posts (Osokin, 2019 ; Zanini et al., 2019 ), the number of followers (Vlachvei & Kyparissi, 2017 ) or the number of people reached by a post (Muñoz-Expósito et al., 2017 ; Rossmann et al., 2016 ).

In a more complex and detailed way, studies from the third group (10% of the studies) identify social media engagement metrics developing ‘set of indexes’. For example, Li et al. ( 2019 ) use three social media metrics to measure engagement in the casual-dining restaurant setting: rates of conversation, amplification, and applause. In detail, conversation rate measures the number of comments or reviews in response to a post, amplification rate measures how much online content is shared, and applause rate measures the number of positive reactions on posts. Similarly, drawing from previous literature, Mariani et al. ( 2018 ) develop three social media metrics, namely generic engagement, brand engagement, and user engagement. Authors calculated these metrics by assessing different weights to different interaction actions, to emphasise the degree of users’ involvement implied by the underlying activities of respectively liking, sharing, or commenting.

Despite their great diffusion among academics and practitioners, some scholars (7% of the studies) argue that quantitative metrics are not enough to appreciate the real value of customer engagement on social media, and a qualitative approach is more suitable. For example, Abuljadail and Ha ( 2019 ) conducted an online survey of 576 Facebook users in Saudi Arabia to examine customer engagement on Facebook. Rogers ( 2018 ) critiques contemporary social media metrics considered ‘vanity metrics’ and repurpose alt metrics scores and other engagement measures for social research—namely dominant voice, concern, commitment, positioning, and alignment—to measure the ‘otherwise engaged’.

5.5 Social media engagement brand-related activities

When measuring social media engagement, scholars dealt with different social media actions that can be classified (Table 7 ) according to the three dimensions of the COBRA model (Consumer Online Brand Related Activities): consumption, contribution, or creation (Schivinski et al., 2016 ).

In a total of 41 articles reviewed, the most investigated dimension by researchers is contribution, i.e. when a customer comments, shares, likes a form of pre-existing brand content (e.g., Buffard et al., 2020 ; Khan et al., 2019 ). Its popularity among the studies may be due to its interactive nature of “liking” and “commenting”, which can be said to be the most common behaviour exhibited across social media platforms and often one of the most manageable interactions to obtain data. Additionally, studies that include creation in the measurement of social media engagement consider posting/publishing brand-related content, uploading brand-related video, pictures, audio or writing brand-related articles (e.g., Zanini et al., 2019 ). Among the sampled papers, the least investigated dimension of the COBRA model is consumption, considered by only seven studies (e.g., Colicev et al., 2018 ; Oh et al., 2017 ). It considers viewing brand-related audio, video, and pictures, following threads on online brand community forums or downloading branded widgets.

Dimensions have been investigated individually, for example, just considering the number of likes or comments (Khan et al., 2019 ; Yoon et al., 2018 ), or jointly using composite indicators, as in the case of Oviedo-Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ).

6 Discussion

This research presents fresh knowledge in the academic debate by providing an overarching picture of social media engagement, framing the phenomenon conceptually and offering a lens to interpret platforms and measuring tools. Conceptual and empirical studies tried to define, conceptualise, and measure social media engagement in diverse ways from different fields of research. They increased the gap between academia and managerial practice, where the topic of social media engagement metrics seems to be much more consolidated. The paper contributes to the academic debate on social media engagement, presenting continuity and discontinuity elements between different fields of enquiry. It also offers avenues for future research that both academics and marketers should explore. It also provides insights and guidance to practitioners on modelling and managing social media engagement.

6.1 Theoretical contribution

The article offers some theoretical contributions to this relatively young research field through the systematic literature review approach.

Firstly, the paper confirms the multidimensional and polysemic nature of engagement, even in the specific context of social media platforms, in continuity with the academic customer engagement research (Brodie et al., 2013 ; Hollebeek et al., 2016 ; So et al., 2016 ; Vivek et al., 2012 ). The concept of social media engagement can be traced back to three dimensions of analysis (Van Doorn, 2010 )—affective, cognitive, and behavioural—and some empirical studies measure it as such (Dessart, 2017 ; Vivek et al., 2014 ). However, the behavioural dimension is still the most used proxy to measure users’ level of engagement. Similarly, marketers and social media platforms have focused on behavioural interactions associated with likes, comments and sharing when reporting engagement metric (Peltier et al., 2020 ). What is worth pointing out is that emotional and cognitive dimensions are also essential components of social media engagement and should be adequately addressed by future research.

Secondly, strictly related to the first point, the paper suggests the COBRA model (Schivinski, 2016 ) as a conceptual tool to classify and interpret social media engagement from the behavioural perspective. Social media engagement can be manifested symbolically through actions (Barger et al., 2016 ; Oh et al., 2017 ; Van Doorn et al., 2010 ) that can be traced back to the three dimensions of consumption, contribution and creation (Schivinski et al., 2016 ). However, it is worth pointing out that not all these actions determine the same level of engagement. When measuring social media engagement, researchers should pay attention not only to ‘contribution’ but also to ‘consumption’ and ‘creation’, which are important indicators of the attention a post receives (Oviedo-Garcìa, 2014 ; Schivinski et al., 2016 ), giving them a different weight. It becomes even more important if considering that the same social networks provide different weights to users' actions. For example, in several countries, Instagram has tested removing the like feature on content posted by others, although users can still see the number of likes on their posts. YouTube has also decided to stop showing precise subscriber counts and Facebook is experimenting with hiding like counts, similar to Instagram.

Thirdly, the paper presents some of the key metrics used to evaluate social media engagement identifying quantitative metrics, normalised indexes, set of indexes and qualitative metrics. Although all indicators are based on the interaction between the user and the brand, as the literature suggests (Barger et al., 2016 ; Oviedo-Garcìa, 2014 ; Vivek et al., 2014 ), the paper argues that different metrics measure diverse aspects of social media engagement and should be used carefully by researchers. Despite the conceptual and qualitative research on the topic, even the most recent metrics offer measurements that do not allow engagement to be widely represented in its multidimensional and polysemic nature (Oviedo-García et al., 2014 ; Peltier et al., 2020 ). To get a deeper understanding of the construct, researchers should also consider some of the most recent advances in business practice. As an example, more and more practitioners have the chance to measure engagement by tracking the time spent on content and web pages to blend the different types of material, such as pictures, text, or even videos. Also, cursor movements, which are known to correlate with visual attention, and eye-tracking, can provide insights into the within-content engagement.

6.2 Managerial implications

Even if the topic of social media engagement seems to be more consolidated in business practice, this study also provides valuable implications for practitioners. Particularly, the findings shed light on the nature of social media engagement construct and on how metrics can be an extremely useful tool to evaluate, monitor, and interpret the effectiveness of social media strategies and campaigns.

This research offers a strategic-operational guide to the measurement of social media engagement, helping marketers understand what engagement is and choose the most effective and suitable KPIs to assess the performance and success of their marketing efforts. In this sense, marketers should accompany traditional metrics, such as likes, comments and shares, with new metrics capable of better capturing user behaviours.

Marketers also need to realise that engagement is a complex construct that goes beyond the simple behavioural dimension, encompassing cognitive and emotional traits. As a result, in some cases, the so-called “vanity metrics” could fail in fully representing all the aspects of social media engagement. In these cases, it should be accompanied by qualitative insights to analyse what users like to share or talk about and not merely look at likes, comments, and shares counts.

7 Limitations and future research

This research is not without limitations. First, the systematic literature review only includes English articles published in Journals. As social media engagement and engagement metrics are emerging research topics, conference proceedings and book chapters could also be included to deepen the understanding of the subject. Second, this research was conducted on the database Scopus of Elsevier for the keywords “social media engagement metrics”. Researchers could use a combination of different databases and keywords to search for new contributions and insights. Third, although the paper is based on a systematic literature review, this methodology reveals the subjectivity in the social sciences.

As this is a relatively young field of research, a further academic investigation is needed to overcome the limitations of the study and outline new scenarios and directions for future research. In addition, considering the growing importance of social media, there is value in broadening the analysis through additional studies. Future marketing research could use mixed approaches to integrate the three dimensions of social media engagement, linking qualitative and quantitative data. Advanced sentiment web mining techniques could be applied to allow researchers to analyse what users like to share or talk about and not merely look at likes, comments, and shares as the only metrics (Peltier et al., 2020 ).

Although Facebook and Twitter are the most used social network by brands, and the most significant part of the literature focuses on these two platforms, researchers should not forget that there are new and emerging social media in different countries (e.g., TikTok, Clubhouse). They already represent a hot topic for practitioners and are calling scholars to define new metrics to measure engagement. Additionally, as the use of social media increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, future research should take this into account to better understand social media engagement across different social media platforms.

Abuljadail, M., & Ha, L. (2019). Engagement and brand loyalty through social capital in social media. International Journal of Internet Marketing and Advertising, 13 (3), 197–217.

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The French Journal of Media Studies

Accueil Numéros 5 Media and Diversity The Concept of Culture in Media S...

The Concept of Culture in Media Studies: A Critical Review of Academic Literature

This study examines the way culture has been researched in media studies and suggests how critical intercultural communication could contribute to the field. A literature review was conducted and articles (N=114) published in peer-reviewed journals between 2003 and 2013 were collected. Results show that studies dealing with media and culture do not systematically define the concept of culture. Findings also indicate that culture is oftentimes taken for granted instead of being problematized and addressed as a source of struggle. Advantages of using a critical intercultural communication framework to examine culture are discussed.

Entrées d’index

Keywords: , texte intégral.

  • 1 Debra L. Merskin, Media, Minorities, and Meaning: A Critical Introduction (New York: Peter Lang Pub (...)
  • 2 Robert M. Entman, “Framing Bias: Media in the Distribution of Power,” Journal of Communication 57, (...)
  • 3 Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes, “The Dangers of Normativity – The Case of Minority Languag (...)
  • 4 Isabelle Rigoni, “Intersectionality and Mediated Cultural Production in A Globalized Post-Colonial (...)

1 Recent directions in the field of media studies have turned culture into a significant object of study. Strong emphasis has been put on representations of minorities in media 1 and their potential biases, 2 minority-language media 3 and ethnic media. 4 However, the increasing attention given to culture has not gone hand in hand with an overall clarification of the concept itself. Defining culture remains a difficult exercise, especially because of its multifaceted nature. The importance of the concept in media studies and its blurry theoretical grounds highlight the need to look back at how it has been used in studies. The present article is built around three main questions. First, it looks at how culture has been researched in media studies . Second, it examines possible limitations of these approaches. Third, it investigates ways in which a critical intercultural communication framework can be beneficial to media studies dealing with culture. For this purpose, this study explores recent academic discourse on media and culture by reviewing studies dealing with issues of cultural diversity, representations of culture, and discourse of culture. In addition to examining approaches to culture and their potential limitations, this article also presents ways in which critical intercultural communication can be used by researchers from different disciplines interested in culture.

2 This article starts by presenting some of the main arguments raised in discussing the use and conceptualization of culture. The way critical intercultural communication contributes to this discussion is presented, followed by reasons why it can be a relevant framework for media studies. This article then looks at previous reviews of academic discourse, especially focusing on the fields of communication and media. Methods for collecting data are detailed before discussing the findings and main implications of this study .

The Concept of Culture

  • 5 Robert Brightman, “Forget Culture: Replacement, Transcendence, Relexification,” Cultural Anthropolo (...)
  • 6 William H. Sewell Jr, “The Concept(s) of Culture,” in Practicing History: New Directions in Histori (...)
  • 7 Ingrid Piller, Intercultural Communication: A Critical Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Universit (...)
  • 9 Fred Dervin, “Approches dialogiques et énonciatives de l’interculturel : Pour une didactique des la (...)
  • 10 Fred Dervin, “A Plea for Change in Research on Intercultural Discourses: A “Liquid” Approach to the (...)
  • 11 Sylvie Poirier, “La (dé)politisation de la culture? Réflexions sur un concept pluriel, ” Anthropolog (...)
  • 12 Ryuko Kubota, “Critical Approaches to Intercultural Discourse and Communication,” in The Handbook o (...)

3 Culture is a concept that has been discussed extensively, giving rise to multiple approaches and uses of the term across fields of study. As the concept of culture became increasingly important and pervasive, it also became increasingly questioned. Across different fields of studies, scholars discuss whether to keep, change or altogether discard the concept of culture. Brightman brought together some of the main criticisms addressed to culture. 5 His work reveals the variety of arguments used against the concept and the lack of convergence on how to revise it or what to use instead. Sewell also goes through some of the cornerstone issues in conceptualizing culture. 6 The first distinction he mentions, and which he argues is not always explicitly made by researchers, is the one between the use of culture and cultures . The singular use refers to the theoretical approach used for research while the plural use refers to the object of study . Culture is used in contrast to other academic disciplines or analytical tools (e.g. politics, economics) whereas cultures is used when examining different forms of culture and is therefore more concrete (e.g. regional culture, hipster culture). Another distinction which has had a strong impact on the study of culture is the understanding of culture as practice or culture as a system of symbols and meanings . Critical intercultural scholars regard culture as a discursive construction, emphasizing the role played by individuals in performing culture. Inherited from constructionism, this approach emphasizes culture as something people do rather than something people have. 7 Regarding culture as practice is the dominant approach in critical intercultural communication, which tends to be used in opposition to culture as a system of symbols and meanings. This latter approach to culture is often associated with essentialist and positivist views that describe culture as an identifiable and fixed item. 8 Essentialist views of culture have been criticized for pinpointing aspects of cultures (typically reduced to the idea of national cultures) and presenting such characteristics as truths rather than constructions. 9 On the other hand, critical intercultural scholars argue for an approach to culture that is largely embedded within social constructionism. 10 Such an approach emphasizes culture as constructed, political, intertwined with ethics 11 and related to power both within and between societies. 12 From that perspective, culture is understood to be situated rather than objective, and ever changing as opposed to stable.

  • 13 Stuart Hall, “Introduction,” in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices , (...)

14 Shi-Xu, A Cultural Approach to Discourse (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 1–13.

  • 15 William A. Gamson and Andre Modigliani, “Media discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Con (...)
  • 16 Nancy K. Rivenburgh, “Media Framing of Complex Issues: The Case of Endangered Languages,” Public Un (...)
  • 17 Ulrika Olausson, “Global warming – Global Responsibility? Media Frames of Collective Action and Sci (...)

4 As Hall stresses, culture is about meaning and as such “permeates all of society.” 13 Representations, practices, values and identities have cultural meanings that are discursively constructed and tap into previous cultural discourses to be meaningful. Critical intercultural communication casts light on ways in which meanings echo cultural knowledge and are therefore difficult to identify and question – even for researchers themselves, hence a strong emphasis placed on reflexivity. 14 The importance of “cultural resonance” has also been pointed out by scholars examining media frames. 15 Rivenburgh stresses the way “media frames that reflect cultural common sense, values, or ideology are both instinctually employed by journalists and easily accepted by the public”. 16 Tapping into cultural resonance may be done consciously or out of habit by journalists and editors who see their cultural environment as natural. The use of culturally resonant frames in media discourse increases their taken-for-grantedness, which enhances their power. Cultural markers create a sense of common sense because of their presence in everyday life experiences which contributes to normalizing them, making them “well-nigh impossible to recognize, question, or resist”. 17 The emphasis that critical intercultural communication puts on culture as having the propensity to normalize representations and practices thus appears especially relevant to media studies.

  • 18 Marianne Jørgensen and Louise J. Phillips, Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method (London: Sage Pu (...)

19 Chris Barker, The Sage Dictionary of Cultural Studies (London: Sage Publications, 2004), 64–65.

5 Another aspect where interests of both disciplines meet is the extent to which discursive practices can be ethnocentric. To different extents, critical scholars agree on the idea that discourses construct the way societies represent themselves. 18 Media discourse is probably one of the discursive practices most often cited as constitutive of people’s worldviews, representations of themselves and others. One question put forward by critical intercultural communication is the extent to which such discourses rely on ethnocentric representations. Ethnocentrism refers to people’s tendency to use the standards of their own culture to judge other cultural groups, which is concurrent with people’s tendency to regard their culture as superior to others. 19 Ethnocentrism thus refers to the way cultural standards can pass as implicit norms for people identifying with that culture. As much emphasis is now put on ethnic media, cultural diversity and the effects of globalization on developing transnational media spaces, it is important not to overlook the extent to which national media discourse can still be limited and convey ethnocentric representations. The emphasis put on ethnocentrism in media has strong practical implications for professionals and audiences by encouraging them to be more critical towards news content.

Examining Academic Discourse

  • 20 Keith V. Erickson, Cathy A. Fleuriet and Lawrence A. Hosman, “Prolific Publishing: Professional and (...)
  • 21 Michael W. Kramer, Jon A. Hess and Loren D. Reid, “Trends in Communication Scholarship: An Analysis (...)

22 Jørgensen and Phillips, Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method , 175–177.

  • 23 Maggie MacLure, Discourses in Educational and Social Research ( Buckingham: Open University Press, 2 (...)

6 Conferences and publications are the main venues for academics to discuss the latest developments and findings from all disciplines. Nowadays, academic debate mostly takes place in journals, whose number has kept on increasing throughout the last decades. 20 It is through these journals that most ideas are expressed, hence the importance of examining their content. Publishing is central for scholars, not only as a way of contributing to the development of their fields of study but also to the development of their career. The notorious “publish or perish” phrase provides an efficient summary of what publications nowadays represent in the academic world. 21 As journal articles have become the main venue for academic discourse, they have also turned into common and natural venues. Such development can be problematic if academic discourse comes to be granted too much legitimacy instead of having its status, form and content constantly challenged. Like other discursive practices, journal articles create and validate certain meanings that progressively become the norm and can, as such, easily pass as natural instead of constructed and contingent. 22 Knowledge expressed in academic discourse is therefore not objective but is, like any other form of knowledge, “‘situated’ – that is, produced by and for particular interests, in particular circumstances, at particular times”. 23 Reflexivity, a central ethical component of research, is therefore especially important when looking at academic discourse as a whole.

  • 24 Ronald D. Gordon, “Beyond the Failures of Western Communication Theory,” Journal of Multicultural D (...)
  • 25 Molefi Kete Asante, “The Ideological Significance of Afrocentricity in Intercultural Communication, (...)
  • 26 Yoshitaka Miike, “Non-Western Theory in Western research? An Asiacentric Agenda for Asian Communica (...)
  • 27 Yoshitaka Miike, “An Asiacentric Reflection on Eurocentric Bias in Communication Theory,” Communica (...)

28 Asante, “The Ideological Significance of Afrocentricity in Intercultural Communication,” 10.

  • 29 Shi-Xu, “Reconstructing Eastern Paradigms of Discourse Studies ,” Journal of Multicultural Discourse (...)
  • 30 Hui-Ching Chang, Rich Holt and Lina Luo, “Representing East Asians in Intercultural Communication T (...)
  • 31 Molefi Kete Asante, Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change (Chicago: African American Images, (...)
  • 32 Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (London: Routl (...)
  • 33 Eric Kit-Wai Ma, “Rethinking Media Studies: The Case of China,” in De-westernizing Media Studies , e (...)

7 Recently, increasing attention has been paid to cultural bias in academic discourse. Some scholars especially criticize the general lack of attention paid to such bias. Gordon, for instance, has looked at communication theories, which he describes as an example of a Western-oriented or Eurocentric approach to research. 24 Gordon highlights the way communication theories have typically been elaborated by Caucasian researchers from the United States who mostly used university students as participants. Western-oriented theories have been criticized for being taken as universally valid despite being anchored in European academic traditions, especially the heritage of the Enlightenment period. In response, some scholars have suggested using different approaches. Asante has, for instance, put forth Afrocentricity as an ideological and methodological approach to conduct research from an African standpoint. 25 Similarly, Miike encourages using Asiacentricity to examine Asian contexts from an Asian perspective. 26 Miike details ways in which the concept of “communication” is defined differently by Asiacentric and Eurocentric approaches, as different aspects and outcomes are emphasized. 27 Afrocentricity and Asiacentricity illustrate ongoing efforts to diversify analytical tools that would help research human activity and capture its plurality. These approaches are meant to open up new perspectives in research by providing scholars with different outlooks on their objects of study. For some scholars, developing new approaches is also meant to create legitimate alternatives to Western theories. Back in 1983, Asante, for instance, pointed out the difficulty for some African scholars to be published in Eurocentric journals because of their different, and non-valued, academic tradition. 28 Shi-Xu advocates the emergence of various academic paradigms that would work “as equal but distinctive interlocutors” and help “redress this cultural imbalance”. 29 However, other voices among academics are more reserved when it comes to developing culture-specific approaches, fearing that it will only turn the problem around instead of solving it. Chang, Holt and Luo raise the question as they discuss Asiacentricity: “If every version of a cultural writing of other is at the same time also the construction of self , might our call for an Asiacentric perspective in explaining communication not fall into the same trap as the often-blamed Eurocentric perspective? Might the reversal of the situation – prioritizing Asians – encounter the same predicament?” 30 Supporters of culture-specific approaches, however, embrace this criticism. From their perspective, culture-specific approaches are beneficial because they are explicitly situated and do not try to reach universal validity. They point out that it is not so much Western-oriented theories being biased and situated that triggered critics as the lack of reflexivity about these limitations. 31 Similar debates are also taking place among media scholars, with issues of “de-Westernizing” media studies being increasingly discussed. 32 Critics claim that Western-oriented media theories are too limited as they are based on European and North American political, economic and media models. Looking specifically at China, Ma argues for a compromise. 33 He questions the benefits of new theories that would risk “essentializing and exoticizing the Asian experience” and proposes adjusting existing theories to fit the Chinese context.

Methods and Results

8 A literature review was conducted in fall 2013 using the academic search engines EBSCO and Web of Science. The keywords “media representation”, “media discourse”, “diversity”, and “cultur*” (the asterisk was used to include other possible endings in the data search) were used to collect peer-reviewed articles published in English between 2003 and 2013. Only articles dealing with issues of cultural diversity and media were included. Some articles in which culture was understood from an agricultural perspective were, for instance, left out. The search was ended once saturation was reached, that is when the same keywords used in different search engines brought up the same articles. In total, 114 articles were collected and reviewed for the purpose of this study. The literature review was conducted inductively and kept as open as possible. The search was not limited to any specific journals because the scope of topics covered by media studies on cultural diversity was expected to be very wide. One aim of this literature review being to see what types of issues were encompassed, it would have been detrimental to limit the search to certain journals.

  • 34 See for example Gordon, “Beyond the Failures of Western Communication Theory,” and Miike, “An Asiac (...)
  • 35 Annelies Verdoolaege, “Media representations of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commissi (...)
  • 36 Jawad Syed, “The Representation of Cultural Diversity in Urdu-Language Newspapers in Pakistan: A St (...)
  • 37 Yasmin Jiwani, “War Talk Engendering Terror: Race, Gender and Representation in Canadian Print Medi (...)
  • 38 Fabienne Darling-Wolf, “Sites of Attractiveness: Japanese Women and Westernized Representations of (...)
  • 39 Maria Andrea Dos Santos Soares, “Look, Blackness in Brazil!: Disrupting the Grotesquerie of Racial (...)
  • 40 Anna Bredström, “Gendered Racism and the Production Of Cultural Difference: Media Representations a (...)
  • 41 Shanara Rose Reid-Brinkley, “Ghetto Kids Gone Good: Race, Representation, and Authority in the Scri (...)

9 Short descriptions were written about each article to describe their content, which later helped identify recurrent themes, similar approaches and unusual topics. Articles were collected within a 10-year time frame in order to get an overall picture of the state of recent research. No particular evolution or trends were noticed, however, regarding approaches or topics tackled. Oftentimes, authors used eclectic theoretical and/or methodological approaches that, for instance, combined cultural studies and critical discourse analysis (CDA) or feminist theories and CDA. Among studies that explicitly presented their theoretical and/or methodological frameworks, CDA (9%), feminist theories (10%) and cultural/critical frameworks relying on Foucault’s, Gramsci’s or Hall’s theories (29%) were recurrent approaches. As regards analytical tools from journalism or media studies, results indicated that framing theory (10%) was often used as opposed to gatekeeping or agenda-setting theory (2%). Similarly to results from previous reviews of academic discourse, 34 studies from this data set appeared to be mainly conducted from a Western-oriented perspective. This was the case even for strongly situated studies that focused on particular cultures and were published in specific journals. For instance, the article “Media Representations of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Their Commitment to Reconciliation” 35 was published in the Journal of African Cultural Studies using CDA, and the article “The Representation of Cultural Diversity in Urdu-Language Newspapers in Pakistan: A Study of Jang and Nawaiwaqt” 36 was published in the South Asia Journal of South Asian Studies and used Hodder’s approach. In comparison, articles looking at representations of women were found to use various trends of feminist theories such as standpoint theory, 37 postcolonial theory 38 and black feminism. 39 Similarly, articles explicitly dealing with race, for instance, used postcolonial theory 40 and Jackson’s (2006) theory of scripting and media framing of black bodies. 41

42 Kathryn Woodward, Identity and Difference (London: Sage Publications, 1997), 35.

10 As regards the scope of topics tackled, results indicated that the majority of articles investigated representation of minorities in the media (67%), most often dealing with ethnic or religious groups. Articles within this category oftentimes raised the issue of media stereotyping and othering minorities. That is, studies investigated ways in which media discourse sometimes supports the construction of minorities as “Others”, which can emphasize differences between groups and convey negative stereotypical representations. 42 Among articles exploring representations of minorities, several studies dealt with sport and representations of athletes (8%). A significant number of studies examined discourses of diversity (23%), with some focusing exclusively on European discourses of diversity (3%). Other studies investigated what diversity stands for in the media and how it can be approached by newsrooms. On the other hand, some topics appeared to be scarcely tackled, which was the case of foreign-news coverage (4%), newsroom diversity (2%) or integration and acculturation issues (2%). Regarding the type of media investigated, the majority of studies examined newspapers and television (70%), while entertainment and advertisement (19%) were less considered.

Culture: Between Main Focus and Transparent Background

11 Despite explicitly dealing with culture, many articles did not provide a clear definition of the term. Nor did many researchers position themselves as regards the different schools of thought on culture. Instances of culture taken for granted particularly occurred in the literature when (1) culture was associated with nations or (2) the so-called Western world, or (3) when the concepts of race or ethnicity were used.

43 Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage Publications, 1995), 6.

  • 44 Rona T. Halualani, S. Lily Mendoza and Jolanta A. Drzewiecka, “‘Critical’” Junctures in Intercultur (...)

12 Results from the literature review conducted for this study indicate the recurrent association of culture with that of nation. However, the use of countries as cultural contexts and embodiments of cultures can be problematic for several reasons. A main pitfall is the homogeneous and reduced picture of culture that it conveys. Culture is a multilayered notion and reducing it to the single aspect of nationality can be detrimental to both the idea of nation and culture. Nations are multicultural, in the literal meaning of the word: that is, made out of multiple cultures. Studies that use nation as the unit of reference to talk about culture, language and identity tend to homogenize national cultures and therefore increase chances of being stereotypical instead of deconstructing stereotypes. A second important drawback is the way national culture tends to be presented as normal instead of artificial. This contributes to discourses of “banal nationalism” where individuals are brought up with the idea that the world is divided between nations. 43 It also overlooks the fact that culture is constructed and thus intertwined with power and struggle. When culture is understood as the equivalent of nation, it typically hints at the culture of the dominant group within that nation. Such representation leaves out or even marginalizes other forms of culture within that country, therefore maintaining existing hierarchy instead of deconstructing it. Halualani, Mendoza and Drzewiecka point out the danger of blurring the lines between the concepts of culture and nation: “To accept cultures as nations as inherently and naturally truthful and accurate at a surface level would be to risk reproducing external framings of cultural groups advanced by colonialist governments, dominant nationalist parties, and ruling power interests that benefit from such ‘status quo’ thinking.” 44

45 Piller, Intercultural Communication: A Critical Introduction , 66–69.

46 Dervin, “A Plea For Change in Research on Intercultural Discourses,” 41.

13 Associating culture to nation thus tends to sustain hierarchy between cultural practices and those who practice or identify to them. By maintaining hierarchical order between cultures, the nation approach implicitly contributes to preserving the persistent dichotomy between “us” and “them”, whether within or between nations. The nation approach to culture is tightly related to essentialist views of culture in that it provides a static and homogeneous picture of culture. Essentialism regards culture as a one-dimensional concept and therefore leaves out issues of race, religion, gender, social status and larger historical and political structures. Critical intercultural communication endeavors to go beyond such limitations by taking into account the multidimensional, constructed, contingent and dynamic facets of culture. The critical intercultural communication approach does not dismiss nations as possible instances of cultures. However, it focuses on exploring which representations of culture and nation are associated, through which processes, and whether such associations vary in time or depending on the context. Critical intercultural scholars emphasize culture as raising questions rather than providing answers that would help predict people’s behaviors. 45 Through its conceptualization of culture, a critical intercultural communication framework helps focus on ways in which people construct their sense of cultural belonging and identity. 46 This approach is relevant to media studies in many ways. It is strongly related to research exploring the relation individuals make between their media consumption and their identity, or research dealing with the way media discourse is intertwined with discourses of (national) identity. The emphasis put on constructing cultural identity and belonging can also help focus on who is represented as “belonging” and who is not, which is a significant aspect of studies on minority media and cultural diversity.

  • 47 Malcom D. Brown, “Comparative Analysis of Mainstream Discourses, Media Narratives and Representatio (...)
  • 48 Margarida Carvalho, “The Construction of the Image of Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in Two Portu (...)

14 As mentioned beforehand, results indicated that culture can be taken for granted when it is about “us”. In many cases, “our” culture is used as a background for research, making it look normal and neutral. “Our” culture also appears homogeneous because examining diversity oftentimes consists of examining the “Other”. For instance, the article entitled “Comparative Analysis of Mainstream Discourses, Media Narratives and Representations of Islam in Britain and France Prior to 9/11” examines the construction of Islam, notably referring to the switch from exoticism before 9/11 to terrorism afterwards. 47 The article, however, does not discuss the construction of “British” and “French” but uses them as taken-for-granted cultural representations. Similarly, the article “The Construction of the Image of Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in two Portuguese Daily Newspapers” discusses the way “their” image is fabricated and thus artificial but does not discuss the construction of the “Portuguese” identity. 48 Of course, focusing on minorities’ identities is highly relevant, but it could be beneficial to consider both majorities’ and minorities’ identities and cultures. Such an approach could help examine diversity among “us” rather than embodied only by “them”. Examining both majority and minority could enable researchers to go beyond this dichotomous opposition and not only look at differences but also cast light on shared cultural representations, practices or identities. Looking at differences and similarities, as well as how those are negotiated, can also help examine the way cultural meanings and identities are constructed in relation to one another. Overall, it would be a way to put all cultural practices and representations on an equal footing by explicitly defining them as constructed and contingent. This could in turn contribute to challenge taken-for-granted perceptions we have of ourselves as well as of others.

49 Anthony P. Browne, “Denying Race in the American and French Context,” Wadabagei 12 (2009): 83.

15 Findings also indicate that the concept of culture tends to be used in different ways depending on whose culture is examined. The “us” is often associated with nationality and presented as legitimate, neutral, acultural, aethnical and aracial while the “them” is often referred to in terms of religious or ethnic denominations. Oftentimes, culture is not directly problematized when the concepts of race and ethnicity are used. Eventually, this paints a picture where “we” seem to be acultural and unproblematic while “they” are described in terms of struggle, race, ethnicity or religious affiliations. The imbalance in such representations is problematic in that it reproduces stereotypical representations of minorities even though most studies intend to deconstruct them. Using alternatives to Western and Eurocentric approaches in media studies could help dismiss such a vicious circle. Enhancing geographical diversity as regards research location could also encourage study of various minority groups. Indeed, findings suggest that numerous studies are located in Europe, North America or Australia: parts of the world that embody the idea of “Western culture”. The lack of diversity in the location of research is a strong shortcoming of academic discourse, especially when it examines representation of minorities. Going through numerous articles dealing with ethnic or religious minorities living in the so-called Western world nourishes the idea that majority and dominant groups are white Europeans while struggling minorities are black, Asians or Muslims. Using a critical intercultural communication framework can discourage researchers from using or describing, even implicitly, certain groups or practices as acultural and neutral and others as only racial or ethnic. This issue has also been raised by scholars working on colorblind ideology. Browne, for instance, argues that in both the United States and France, being white is “the invisible norm against which all other cultural and racial groups are defined and subordinated”. 49 The notion of invisible norm raised by Browne is particularly relevant when it comes to seeing oneself as aracial or acultural and seeing others mostly through their skin color, religious affiliations or cultural practices. The way concepts of race and ethnicity can sometimes be used instead of the one of culture conveys the idea that they refer to different aspects. Nevertheless, race and ethnicity are forms of culture, as gender, nationality or social class can also be. Dismissing culture and using only race and ethnicity can be a drawback in that it contributes to presenting culture as unproblematic and natural, while race and ethnicity are sources of struggle. Using a critical intercultural communication framework is a way to be inclusive and critically tackle all aspects of culture. Bridging the gap between culture, race and ethnicity is also a way to bring together schools of thought (for instance, scholars from the United States and scholars from Europe) that have different stances on the concept of race itself. Examining critically the way race, ethnicity, social status, religious, sexual and gender identities are constructed and conveyed can thus enrich our understanding of culture. Generally speaking, using a critical approach to the concept of culture would help address problematic representations of minority/majority and us/them in academic discourse. Understanding culture as a construction that involves power relations and struggle contributes to include every individual, group and practice, since all aspects and members of societies are cultural. This therefore takes away the pervasive and implicit idea that some people or practices are neutral to some extent. Reflexivity is a central component in order to be able to detach oneself from ethnocentric representations and look at oneself, one’s culture, practices and values as cultural and therefore constructed and ideological. Focusing on cultural identity as constructed is also an asset in decreasing ethnocentrism or cultural bias in academic discourse. Encouraging researchers to be reflexive about their cultural backgrounds can help them problematize what they could otherwise take for granted about their own cultural identities and belongings. As Rorty points out, no one is ahistorical or acultural and therefore “everybody is ethnocentric when engaged in actual debate”. 50 The best way to overcome ethnocentric representations is to make them and the way they are constructed salient. Ethnocentrism in academic discourse is particularly problematic because research aims at being, if not entirely unbiased, at least critical towards its inherent subjectivity. Ethnocentrism as a form of bias is difficult to overcome if not addressed directly. Researchers should therefore aim at being critical towards their personal background as well as their philosophical, theoretical and methodological heritage. Cultural baggage has to be reflected upon at the individual level, that is, in the way personal choices affect the way researchers tackle a topic or analyze data, but also at the academic level, that is, the way they can be blind to the overall schools of thought to which they belong.

16 The concept of culture is regarded by many as ambiguous, difficult to conceptualize, and even non-operational by some scholars. In spite of its difficult reputation, culture remains a prominent object of study. Influences from critical theories and social constructionism make critical intercultural communication a relevant framework for examining representations and discursive constructions of culture. The premise that culture is constructed provides a solid ground to examine ways in which certain representations seem more powerful or natural than others. It also emphasizes the fact that we live in webs of cultural discourses – some invisible to us, depending on contexts – that are intertwined with other discourses. The main aim of using a critical intercultural communication framework is not to uncover what culture really is but to uncover what representations of culture come to appear real, and through which processes. Studies therefore primarily focus on the way we navigate these webs and make sense of them, the way they are constructed, interrelated and empowered. The main asset of this framework is its emphasis on problematizing culture, which reduces risks of taking it for granted. As such, critical intercultural communication also encourages researchers to be reflexive about their academic and cultural background. This can help one be aware of the extent to which one’s knowledge is situated, and therefore contributes to decreasing cultural bias in academic discourse. Generally, being aware of the representations we have of ourselves and others, as well as the reasons why these representations are constructed and conveyed, is central to developing understanding and tolerance towards others. This is especially relevant now that more and more people cross borders and that communication between cultures is faster, easier, and therefore increasingly common.


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Note de fin

1 Debra L. Merskin, Media, Minorities, and Meaning: A Critical Introduction (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2011).

2 Robert M. Entman, “Framing Bias: Media in the Distribution of Power,” Journal of Communication 57, (2007).

3 Sari Pietikäinen and Helen Kelly-Holmes, “The Dangers of Normativity – The Case of Minority Language Media,” in Dangerous Multilingualism: Northern Perspectives on Order, Purity And Normality , ed. Jan Blommaert et al . (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 194–204.

4 Isabelle Rigoni, “Intersectionality and Mediated Cultural Production in A Globalized Post-Colonial World,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 35 (2012).

5 Robert Brightman, “Forget Culture: Replacement, Transcendence, Relexification,” Cultural Anthropology 10, (1995).

6 William H. Sewell Jr, “The Concept(s) of Culture,” in Practicing History: New Directions in Historical Writing after the Linguistic Turn , ed. Gabrielle M. Spiegel (New York: Routledge, 2005), 76–95.

7 Ingrid Piller, Intercultural Communication: A Critical Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 15.

9 Fred Dervin, “Approches dialogiques et énonciatives de l’interculturel : Pour une didactique des langues et de l’identité mouvante des sujets,” Synergies Roumanie 4 (2009): 166–167.

10 Fred Dervin, “A Plea for Change in Research on Intercultural Discourses: A “Liquid” Approach to the Study of the Acculturation of Chinese Students,” Journal of Multicultural Discourses 6 (March 2011): 38.

11 Sylvie Poirier, “La (dé)politisation de la culture? Réflexions sur un concept pluriel, ” Anthropologie et sociétés 28 (2004): 10 – 13.

12 Ryuko Kubota, “Critical Approaches to Intercultural Discourse and Communication,” in The Handbook of Intercultural Discourse and Communication , ed. Christina Bratt Paulston et al . (Malden, USA: John Wiley & Sons, 2012), 95.

13 Stuart Hall, “Introduction,” in Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices , ed. Stuart Hall (London: Sage Publications, 1997), 3.

15 William A. Gamson and Andre Modigliani, “Media discourse and Public Opinion on Nuclear Power: A Constructionist Approach,” American Journal of Sociology 95 (1989): 5.

16 Nancy K. Rivenburgh, “Media Framing of Complex Issues: The Case of Endangered Languages,” Public Understanding of Science 22 (2011): 706.

17 Ulrika Olausson, “Global warming – Global Responsibility? Media Frames of Collective Action and Scientific Certainty,” Public Understanding of Science 18 (2009): 423.

18 Marianne Jørgensen and Louise J. Phillips, Discourse Analysis as Theory and Method (London: Sage Publications, 2002), 175–177.

20 Keith V. Erickson, Cathy A. Fleuriet and Lawrence A. Hosman, “Prolific Publishing: Professional and Administrative Concerns,” The Southern Communication Journal 58 (Summer 1993): 328–329.

21 Michael W. Kramer, Jon A. Hess and Loren D. Reid, “Trends in Communication Scholarship: An Analysis of Four Representative NCA and ICA Journals over the Last 70 Years,” The Review of Communication 7 (July 2007): 229–230.

23 Maggie MacLure, Discourses in Educational and Social Research ( Buckingham: Open University Press, 2003), 175.

24 Ronald D. Gordon, “Beyond the Failures of Western Communication Theory,” Journal of Multicultural Discourse 2 (2007).

25 Molefi Kete Asante, “The Ideological Significance of Afrocentricity in Intercultural Communication,” Journal of Black Studies 14 (1983).

26 Yoshitaka Miike, “Non-Western Theory in Western research? An Asiacentric Agenda for Asian Communication Studies,” The Review of Communication 6, (2006).

27 Yoshitaka Miike, “An Asiacentric Reflection on Eurocentric Bias in Communication Theory,” Communication Monographs 74 (2007).

29 Shi-Xu, “Reconstructing Eastern Paradigms of Discourse Studies ,” Journal of Multicultural Discourses 4 (2009): 33.

30 Hui-Ching Chang, Rich Holt and Lina Luo, “Representing East Asians in Intercultural Communication Textbooks: A Select Review,” The Review of Communication 6 (2006): 325–326.

31 Molefi Kete Asante, Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change (Chicago: African American Images, 2003), 61.

32 Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (London: Routledge, 1994); James Curran and Myung-Jin Park, De-westernizing Media Studies (London: Routledge, 2000).

33 Eric Kit-Wai Ma, “Rethinking Media Studies: The Case of China,” in De-westernizing Media Studies , ed. James Curran et al . (London: Routledge, 1994), 32.

34 See for example Gordon, “Beyond the Failures of Western Communication Theory,” and Miike, “An Asiacentric Reflection on Eurocentric Bias in Communication Theory”.

35 Annelies Verdoolaege, “Media representations of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and their Commitment to Reconciliation,” Journal of African Cultural Studies 17 (2005).

36 Jawad Syed, “The Representation of Cultural Diversity in Urdu-Language Newspapers in Pakistan: A Study Of Jang And Nawaiwaqt,” Journal of South Asian Studies 31 (2008).

37 Yasmin Jiwani, “War Talk Engendering Terror: Race, Gender and Representation in Canadian Print Media,” International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics 1 (2005).

38 Fabienne Darling-Wolf, “Sites of Attractiveness: Japanese Women and Westernized Representations of Feminine Beauty,” Critical Studies in Media Communication 21 (2004).

39 Maria Andrea Dos Santos Soares, “Look, Blackness in Brazil!: Disrupting the Grotesquerie of Racial Representation in Brazilian Visual Culture,” Cultural Dynamics 24 (2012).

40 Anna Bredström, “Gendered Racism and the Production Of Cultural Difference: Media Representations and Identity Work among ‘Immigrant Youth’ In Contemporary Sweden,” Nora: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies 11 (2003).

41 Shanara Rose Reid-Brinkley, “Ghetto Kids Gone Good: Race, Representation, and Authority in the Scripting of Inner-City Youths in the Urban Debate League,” Argumentation & Advocacy 49 (2012).

44 Rona T. Halualani, S. Lily Mendoza and Jolanta A. Drzewiecka, “‘Critical’” Junctures in Intercultural Communication Studies: A Review,” The Review of Communication 9 (January 2009): 24.

47 Malcom D. Brown, “Comparative Analysis of Mainstream Discourses, Media Narratives and Representations of Islam in Britain and France Prior to 9/11,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 26 (2006).

48 Margarida Carvalho, “The Construction of the Image of Immigrants and Ethnic Minorities in Two Portuguese Daily Newspapers,” Portuguese Journal of Social Science 9 (2010).

Richard Rorty, “Solidarity or Objectivity,” in Knowledge and Inquiry. Readings in Epistemology , ed. K. Brad Wray (Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2002), 432.

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Mélodine Sommier , «  The Concept of Culture in Media Studies: A Critical Review of Academic Literature  » ,  InMedia [En ligne], 5 | 2014, mis en ligne le 17 octobre 2014 , consulté le 22 décembre 2023 . URL  : ; DOI  :

Mélodine Sommier

Mélodine Sommier is a doctoral student in intercultural communication at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. She has particular interests in migration and acculturation issues as well as discourses of culture in the media.

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Special Issue: Propaganda

This essay was published as part of the Special Issue “Propaganda Analysis Revisited”, guest-edited by Dr. A. J. Bauer (Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Creative Media, University of Alabama) and Dr. Anthony Nadler (Associate Professor, Department of Communication and Media Studies, Ursinus College).

Propaganda, misinformation, and histories of media techniques

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This essay argues that the recent scholarship on misinformation and fake news suffers from a lack of historical contextualization. The fact that misinformation scholarship has, by and large, failed to engage with the history of propaganda and with how propaganda has been studied by media and communication researchers is an empirical detriment to it, and serves to make the solutions and remedies to misinformation harder to articulate because the actual problem they are trying to solve is unclear.

School of Media and Communication, University of Leeds, UK

research paper on media studies


Propaganda has a history and so does research on it. In other words, the mechanisms and methods through which media scholars have sought to understand propaganda—or misinformation, or disinformation, or fake news, or whatever you would like to call it—are themselves historically embedded and carry with them underlying notions of power and causality. To summarize the already quite truncated argument below, the larger conceptual frameworks for understanding information that is understood as “pernicious” in some way can be grouped into four large categories: studies of propaganda, the analysis of ideology and its relationship to culture, notions of conspiracy theory, and finally, concepts of misinformation and its impact. The fact that misinformation scholarship generally proceeds without acknowledging these theoretical frameworks is an empirical detriment to it and serves to make the solutions and remedies to misinformation harder to articulate because the actual problem to be solved is unclear. 

The following pages discuss each of these frameworks—propaganda, ideology, conspiracy, and misinformation—before returning to the stakes and implications of these arguments for future research on pernicious media content.

Propaganda and applied research

The most salient aspect of propaganda research is the fact that it is powerful in terms of resources while at the same time it is often intellectually derided, or at least regularly dismissed. Although there has been a left-wing tradition of propaganda research housed uneasily within the academy (Herman & Chomsky, 1988; Seldes & Seldes, 1943), this is not the primary way in which journalism or media messaging has been understood in many journalism schools or mainstream communications departments. This relates, of course, to the institutionalization of journalism and communication studies within the academic enterprise. Within this paradox, we see the greater paradox of communication research as both an applied and a disciplinary field. Propaganda is taken quite seriously by governments, the military, and the foreign service apparatus (Simpson, 1994); at the same time, it has occupied a tenuous conceptual place in most media studies and communications departments, with the dominant intellectual traditions embracing either a “limited effects” notion of what communication “does” or else more concerned with the more slippery concept of ideology (and on that, see more below). There is little doubt that the practical study of the power of messages and the field of communication research grew up together. Summarizing an initially revisionist line of research that has now become accepted within the historiography of the field, Nietzel notes that “from the very beginning, communication research was at least in part designed as an applied science, intended to deliver systematic knowledge that could be used for the business of government to the political authorities.” He adds, however, that

“this context also had its limits, for by the end of the decade, communication research had become established at American universities and lost much of its dependence on state funds. Furthermore, it had become increasingly clear that communication scientists could not necessarily deliver knowledge to the political authorities that could serve as a pattern for political acting (Simpson, 1994 pp. 88–89). From then on, politics and communication science parted ways. Many of the approaches and techniques which seemed innovative and even revolutionary in the 1940s and early 1950s, promising a magic key to managing propaganda activities and controlling public opinion, became routine fields of work, and institutions like the USIA carried out much of this kind of research themselves.” (Nietzel, 2016, p. 66)

It is important to note that this parting of ways did  not  mean that no one in the United States and the Soviet Union was studying propaganda. American government records document that, in inflation-adjusted terms, total funding for the United States Information Agency (USIA) rose from $1.2 billion in 1955 to $1.7 billion in 1999, shortly before its functions were absorbed into the United States Department of State. And this was dwarfed by Soviet spending, which spent more money jamming Western Radio transmissions alone than the United States did in its entire propaganda budget. Media effects research in the form of propaganda studies was a big and well-funded business. It was simply not treated as such within the traditional academy (Zollman, 2019). It is also important to note that this does not mean that no one in academia studies propaganda or the effect of government messages on willing or unwilling recipients, particularly in fields like health communication (also quite well-funded). These more academic studies, however, were tempered by the generally accepted fact that there existed no decontextualized, universal laws of communication that could render media messages easily useable by interested actors.

Ideology, economics, and false consciousness

If academics have been less interested than governments and health scientists in analyzing the role played by propaganda in the formation of public opinion, what has the academy worried about instead when it comes to the study of pernicious messages and their role in public life? Open dominant, deeply contested line of study has revolved around the concept of  ideology.  As defined by Raymond Williams in his wonderful  Keywords , ideology refers to an interlocking set of ideas, beliefs, concepts, or philosophical principles that are naturalized, taken for granted, or regarded as self-evident by various segments of society. Three controversial and interrelated principles then follow. First, ideology—particularly in its Marxist version—carries with it the implication that these ideas are somehow deceptive or disassociated from what actually exists. “Ideology is then abstract and false thought, in a sense directly related to the original conservative use but with the alternative—knowledge of real material conditions and relationships—differently stated” (Williams, 1976). Second, in all versions of Marxism, ideology is related to economic conditions in some fashion, with material reality, the economics of a situation, usually dominant and helping give birth to ideological precepts. In common Marxist terminology, this is usually described as the relationship between the base (economics and material conditions) and the superstructure (the realm of concepts, culture, and ideas). Third and finally, it is possible that different segments of society will have  different  ideologies, differences that are based in part on their position within the class structure of that society. 

Western Marxism in general (Anderson, 1976) and Antonio Gramsci in particular helped take these concepts and put them on the agenda of media and communications scholars by attaching more importance to “the superstructure” (and within it, media messages and cultural industries) than was the case in earlier Marxist thought. Journalism and “the media” thus play a major role in creating and maintaining ideology and thus perpetuating the deception that underlies ideological operations. In the study of the relationship between the media and ideology, “pernicious messages” obviously mean something different than they do in research on propaganda—a more structural, subtle, reinforcing, invisible, and materially dependent set of messages than is usually the case in propaganda analysis.  Perhaps most importantly, little research on media and communication understands ideology in terms of “discrete falsehoods and erroneous belief,” preferring to focus on processes of deep structural  misrecognition  that serves dominant economic interests (Corner, 2001, p. 526). This obviously marks a difference in emphasis as compared to most propaganda research. 

Much like in the study of propaganda, real-world developments have also had an impact on the academic analysis of media ideology. The collapse of communism in the 1980s and 1990s and the rise of neoliberal governance obviously has played a major role in these changes. Although only one amongst a great many debates about the status of ideology in a post-Marxist communications context, the exchange between Corner (2001, 2016) and Downey (2008; Downey et al., 2014) is useful for understanding how scholars have dealt with the relationship between large macro-economic and geopolitical changes in the world and fashions of research within the academy. Regardless of whether concepts of ideology are likely to return to fashion, any analysis of misinformation that is consonant with this tradition must keep in mind the relationship between class and culture, the outstanding and open question of “false consciousness,” and the key scholarly insight that ideological analysis is less concerned with false messages than it is with questions of structural misrecognition and the implications this might have for the maintenance of hegemony.

Postmodern conspiracy

Theorizing pernicious media content as a “conspiracy” theory is less common than either of the two perspectives discussed above. Certainly, conspiratorial media as an explanatory factor for political pathology has something of a post-Marxist (and indeed, postmodern) aura. Nevertheless, there was a period in the 1990s and early 2000s when some of the most interesting notions of conspiracy theories were analyzed in academic work, and it seems hard to deny that much of this literature would be relevant to the current emergence of the “QAnon” cult, the misinformation that is said to drive it, and other even more exotic notions of elites conspiring against the public. 

Frederic Jameson has penned remarks on conspiracy theory that represent the starting point for much current writing on the conspiratorial mindset, although an earlier and interrelated vein of scholarship can be found in the work of American writers such as Hofstadter (1964) and Rogin (1986). “Conspiracy is the poor person’s cognitive mapping in the postmodern age,” Jameson writes, “it is a degraded figure of the total logic of late capital, a desperate attempt to represent the latter’s system” (Jameson, 1991). If “postmodernism,” in Jameson’s terms, is marked by a skepticism toward metanarratives, then conspiracy theory is the only narrative system available to explain the various deformations of the capitalist system. As Horn and Rabinach put it:

“The broad interest taken by cultural studies in popular conspiracy theories mostly adopted Jameson’s view and regards them as the wrong answers to the right questions. Showing the symptoms of disorientation and loss of social transparency, conspiracy theorists are seen as the disenfranchised “poor in spirit,” who, for lack of a real understanding of the world they live in, come up with paranoid systems of world explanation.” (Horn & Rabinach, 2008)

Other thinkers, many of them operating from a perch within media studies and communications departments, have tried to take conspiracy theories more seriously (Bratich, 2008; Fenster, 2008; Pratt, 2003; Melley, 2008). The key question for all of these thinkers lies within the debate discussed in the previous section, the degree to which “real material interests” lie behind systems of ideological mystification and whether audiences themselves bear any responsibility for their own predicament. In general, writers sympathetic to Jameson have tended to maintain a Marxist perspective in which conspiracy represents a pastiche of hegemonic overthrow, thus rendering it just another form of ideological false consciousness. Theorists less taken with Marxist categories see conspiracy as an entirely rational (though incorrect) response to conditions of late modernity or even as potentially liberatory. Writers emphasizing that pernicious media content tends to fuel a conspiratorial mindset often emphasize the mediated aspects of information rather than the economics that lie behind these mediations. Both ideological analysis and academic writings on conspiracy theory argue that there is a gap between “what seems to be going on” and “what is actually going on,” and that this gap is maintained and widened by pernicious media messages. Research on ideology tends to see the purpose of pernicious media content as having an ultimately material source that is rooted in “real interests,” while research on conspiracies plays down these class aspects and questions whether any real interests exist that go beyond the exercise of political power.

The needs of informationally ill communities

The current thinking in misinformation studies owes something to all these approaches. But it owes an even more profound debt to two perspectives on information and journalism that emerged in the early 2000s, both of which are indebted to an “ecosystemic” perspective on information flows. One perspective sees information organizations and their audiences as approximating a natural ecosystem, in which different media providers contribute equally to the health of an information environment, which then leads to healthy citizens. The second perspective analyzes the flows of messages as they travel across an information environment, with messages becoming reshaped and distorted as they travel across an information network. 

Both of these perspectives owe a debt to the notion of the “informational citizen” that was popular around the turn of the century and that is best represented by the 2009 Knight Foundation report  The Information Needs of Communities  (Knight Foundation, 2009). This report pioneered the idea that communities were informational communities whose political health depended in large part on the quality of information these communities ingested. Additional reports by The Knight Foundation, the Pew Foundation, and this author (Anderson, 2010) looked at how messages circulated across these communities, and how their transformation impacted community health. 

It is a short step from these ecosystemic notions to a view of misinformation that sees it as a pollutant or even a virus (Anderson, 2020), one whose presence in a community turns it toward sickness or even political derangement. My argument here is that the current misinformation perspective owes less to its predecessors (with one key exception that I will discuss below) and more to concepts of information that were common at the turn of the century. The major difference between the concept of misinformation and earlier notions of informationally healthy citizens lies in the fact that the normative standard by which health is understood within information studies is crypto-normative. Where writings about journalism and ecosystemic health were openly liberal in nature and embraced notions of a rational, autonomous citizenry who just needed the right inputs in order to produce the right outputs, misinformation studies has a tendency to embrace liberal behavioralism without embracing a liberal political theory. What the political theory of misinformation studies is, in the end, deeply unclear.

I wrote earlier that misinformation studies owed more to notions of journalism from the turn of the century than it did to earlier traditions of theorizing. There is one exception to this, however. Misinformation studies, like propaganda analysis, is a radically de-structured notion of what information does. Buried within analysis of pernicious information there is

“A powerful cultural contradiction—the need to understand and explain social influence versus a rigid intolerance of the sociological and Marxist perspectives that could provide the theoretical basis for such an understanding. Brainwashing, after all, is ultimately a theory of ideology in the crude Marxian sense of “false consciousness.” Yet the concept of brainwashing was the brainchild of thinkers profoundly hostile to Marxism not only to its economic assumptions but also to its emphasis on structural, rather than individual, causality.” (Melley, 2008, p. 149)

For misinformation studies to grow in such a way that allows it to take its place among important academic theories of media and communication, several things must be done. The field needs to be more conscious of its own history, particularly its historical conceptual predecessors. It needs to more deeply interrogate its  informational-agentic  concept of what pernicious media content does, and perhaps find room in its arsenal for Marxist notions of hegemony or poststructuralist concepts of conspiracy. Finally, it needs to more openly advance its normative agenda, and indeed, take a normative position on what a good information environment would look like from the point of view of political theory. If this environment is a liberal one, so be it. But this position needs to be stated clearly.

Of course, misinformation studies need not worry about its academic bona fides at all. As the opening pages of this Commentary have shown, propaganda research was only briefly taken seriously as an important academic field. This did not stop it from being funded by the U.S. government to the tune of 1.5 billion dollars a year. While it is unlikely that media research will ever see that kind of investment again, at least by an American government, let’s not forget that geopolitical Great Power conflict has not disappeared in the four years that Donald Trump was the American president. Powerful state forces in Western society will have their own needs, and their own demands, for misinformation research. It is up to the scholarly community to decide how they will react to these temptations. 

  • Mainstream Media
  • / Propaganda

Cite this Essay

Anderson, C. W. (2021). Propaganda, misinformation, and histories of media techniques. Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Misinformation Review .


Anderson, C. W. (2010). Journalistic networks and the diffusion of local news: The brief, happy news life of the Francisville Four. Political Communication , 27 (3), 289–309.

Anderson, C. W. (2020, August 10). Fake news is not a virus: On platforms and their effects. Communication Theory , 31 (1), 42–61.

Anderson, P. (1976). Considerations on Western Marxism . Verso.

Bratich, J. Z. (2008). Conspiracy panics: Political rationality and popular culture. State University of New York Press.

Corner, J. (2001). ‘Ideology’: A note on conceptual salvage. Media, Culture & Society , 23 (4), 525–533.

Corner, J. (2016). ‘Ideology’ and media research. Media, Culture & Society , 38 (2), 265 – 273.

Downey, J. (2008). Recognition and renewal of ideology critique. In D. Hesmondhaigh & J. Toynbee (Eds.), The media and social theory (pp. 59–74). Routledge.

Downey, J., Titley, G., & Toynbee, J. (2014). Ideology critique: The challenge for media studies. Media, Culture & Society , 36 (6), 878–887.

Fenster (2008). Conspiracy theories: Secrecy and power in American culture (Rev. ed.). University of Minnesota Press.

Herman, E., & Chomsky, N. (1988). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. Pantheon Books. 

Hofstadter, R. (1964, November). The paranoid style in American politics. Harper’s Magazine.

Horn, E., & Rabinach, A. (2008). Introduction. In E. Horn (Ed.), Dark powers: Conspiracies and conspiracy theory in history and literature (pp. 1–8), New German Critique , 35 (1).

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or, the cultural logic of late capitalism . Duke University Press.

The Knight Foundation. (2009). Informing communities: Sustaining democracy in the digital age.

Melley, T. (2008). Brainwashed! Conspiracy theory and ideology in postwar United States. New German Critique , 35 (1), 145–164.

Nietzel, B. (2016). Propaganda, psychological warfare and communication research in the USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. History of the Human Sciences , 29 (4 – 5), 59–76.

Pratt, R. (2003). Theorizing conspiracy. Theory and Society , 32 , 255–271.

Rogin, M. P. (1986). The countersubversive tradition in American politics.  Berkeley Journal of Sociology,   31 , 1 –33.

Seldes, G., & Seldes, H. (1943). Facts and fascism. In Fact.

Simpson, C. (1994). Science of coercion: Communication research and psychological warfare, 1945–1960. Oxford University Press.

Williams, R. (1976).  Keywords: A vocabulary of culture and society . Oxford University Press.

Zollmann, F. (2019). Bringing propaganda back into news media studies. Critical Sociology , 45 (3), 329–345.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License , which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that the original author and source are properly credited.

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Journal of Media and Communication Studies

  • Abbreviation: J. Media Commun. Stud.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-2545
  • DOI: 10.5897/JMCS
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 230
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The disaster of misinformation: a review of research in social media

Sadiq muhammed t.

Department of Management Studies (DoMS), Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600036 India

Saji K. Mathew

The spread of misinformation in social media has become a severe threat to public interests. For example, several incidents of public health concerns arose out of social media misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Against the backdrop of the emerging IS research focus on social media and the impact of misinformation during recent events such as the COVID-19, Australian Bushfire, and the USA elections, we identified disaster, health, and politics as specific domains for a research review on social media misinformation. Following a systematic review process, we chose 28 articles, relevant to the three themes, for synthesis. We discuss the characteristics of misinformation in the three domains, the methodologies that have been used by researchers, and the theories used to study misinformation. We adapt an Antecedents-Misinformation-Outcomes (AMIO) framework for integrating key concepts from prior studies. Based on the AMIO framework, we further discuss the inter-relationships of concepts and the strategies to control the spread of misinformation on social media. Ours is one of the early reviews focusing on social media misinformation research, particularly on three socially sensitive domains; disaster, health, and politics. This review contributes to the emerging body of knowledge in Data Science and social media and informs strategies to combat social media misinformation.


Information disorder in social media.

Rumors, misinformation, disinformation, and mal-information are common challenges confronting media of all types. It is, however, worse in the case of digital media, especially on social media platforms. Ease of access and use, speed of information diffusion, and difficulty in correcting false information make control of undesirable information a horrid task [ 1 ]. Alongside these challenges, social media has also been highly influential in spreading timely and useful information. For example, the recent #BlackLivesMatter movement was enabled by social media, which united concurring people's solidarity across the world when George Floyd was killed due to police brutality, and so are 2011 Arab spring in the Middle East and the 2017 #MeToo movement against sexual harassments and abuse [ 2 , 3 ]. Although, scholars have addressed information disorder in social media, a synthesis of the insights from these studies are rare.

The information which is fake or misleading and spreads unintentionally is known as misinformation [ 4 ]. Prior research on misinformation in social media has highlighted various characteristics of misinformation and interventions thereof in different contexts. The issue of misinformation has become dominant with the rise of social media, attracting scholarly attention, particularly after the 2016 USA Presidential election, when misinformation apparently influenced the election results [ 5 ]. The word 'misinformation' was listed as one of the global risks by the World Economic Forum [ 6 ]. A similar term that is popular and confusing along with misinformation is 'disinformation'. It is defined as the information that is fake or misleading, and unlike misinformation, spreads intentionally. Disinformation campaigns are often seen in a political context where state actors create them for political gains. In India, during the initial stage of COVID-19, there was reportedly a surge in fake news linking the virus outbreak to a particular religious group. This disinformation spread gained media attention as it was widely shared on social media platforms. As a result of the targeting, it eventually translated into physical violence and discriminatory treatment against members of the community in some of the Indian states [ 7 ]. 'Rumors' and 'fake news' are similar terms related to misinformation. 'Rumors' are unverified information or statements circulated with uncertainty, and 'fake news' is the misinformation that is distributed in an official news format. Source ambiguity, personal involvement, confirmation bias, and social ties are some of the rumor-causing factors. Yet another related term, mal-information, is accurate information that is used in different contexts to spread hatred or abuse of a person or a particular group. Our review focuses on misinformation that is spread through social media platforms. The words 'rumor', and 'misinformation' are used interchangeably in this paper. Further, we identify factors that cause misinformation based on a systematic review of prior studies.

Ours is one of the early attempts to review social media research on misinformation. This review focuses on three sensitive domains of disaster, health, and politics, setting three objectives: (a) to analyze previous studies to understand the impact of misinformation on the three domains (b) to identify theoretical perspectives used to examine the spread of misinformation on social media and (c) to develop a framework to study key concepts and their inter-relationships emerging from prior studies. We identified these specific areas as the impact of misinformation with regards to both speed of spread and scale of influence are high and detrimental to the public and governments. To the best of our knowledge, the review of the literature on social media misinformation themes are relatively scanty. This review contributes to an emerging body of knowledge in Data Science and informs the efforts to combat social media misinformation. Data Science is an interdisciplinary area which incorporates different areas like statistics, management, and sociology to study the data and create knowledge out of data [ 8 ]. This review will also inform future studies that aim to evaluate and compare patterns of misinformation on sensitive themes of social relevance, such as disaster, health, and politics.

The paper is structured as follows. The first section introduces misinformation in social media context. In Sect.  2 , we provide a brief overview of prior research works on misinformation and social media. Section  3 describes the research methodology, which includes details of the literature search and selection process. Section  4 discusses the analysis of spread of misinformation on social media based on three themes- disaster, health, and politics and the review findings. This includes current state of research, theoretical foundations, determinants of misinformation in social media platforms, and strategies to control the spread of misinformation. Section  5 concludes with the implications and limitations of the paper.

Social media and spread of misinformation

Misinformation arises in uncertain contexts when people are confronted with a scarcity of information they need. During unforeseen circumstances, the affected individual or community experiences nervousness or anxiety. Anxiety is one of the primary reasons behind the spread of misinformation. To overcome this tension, people tend to gather information from sources such as mainstream media and official government social media handles to verify the information they have received. When they fail to receive information from official sources, they collect related information from their peer circles or other informal sources, which would help them to control social tension [ 9 ]. Furthermore, in an emergency context, misinformation helps community members to reach a common understanding of the uncertain situation.

The echo chamber of social media

Social media has increasingly grown in power and influence and has acted as a medium to accelerate sociopolitical movements. Network effects enhance participation in social media platforms which in turn spread information (good or bad) at a faster pace compared to traditional media. Furthermore, due to a massive surge in online content consumption primarily through social media both business organizations and political parties have begun to share content that are ambiguous or fake to influence online users and their decisions for financial and political gains [ 9 , 10 ]. On the other hand, people often approach social media with a hedonic mindset, which reduces their tendency to verify the information they receive [ 9 ]. Repetitive exposure to contents that coincides with their pre-existing beliefs, increases believability and shareability of content. This process known as the echo-chamber effect [ 11 ] is fueled by confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency of the person to support information that reinforces pre-existing beliefs and neglect opposing perspectives and viewpoints other than their own.

Platforms’ structure and algorithms also have an essential role in spreading misinformation. Tiwana et al. [ 12 ] have defined platform architecture as ‘a conceptual blueprint that describes how the ecosystem is partitioned into a relatively stable platform and a complementary set of modules that are encouraged to vary, and the design rules binding on both’. Business models of these platforms are based upon maximizing user engagement. For example, in the case of Facebook or Twitter, user feed is based on their existing belief or preferences. User feeds provide users with similar content that matches their existing beliefs, thus contributing to the echo chamber effect.

Platform architecture makes the transmission and retransmission of misinformation easier [ 12 , 13 ]. For instance, WhatsApp has a one-touch forward option that enables users to forward messages simultaneously to multiple users. Earlier, a WhatsApp user could forward a message to 250 groups or users at a time, which as a measure for controlling the spread of misinformation was limited to five members in 2019. WhatsApp claimed that globally this restriction reduced message forwarding by 25% [ 14 ]. Apart from platform politics, users also have an essential role in creating or distributing misinformation. In a disaster context, people tend to share misinformation based on their subjective feeling [ 15 ].

Misinformation has the power to influence the decisions of its audience. It can change a citizen's approach toward a topic or a subject. The anti-vaccine movement on Twitter during the 2015 measles (highly communicable disease) outbreak in Disneyland, California, serves as a good example. The movement created conspiracy theories and mistrust on the State, which increased vaccine refusal rate [ 16 ]. Misinformation could even influence election of governments by manipulating citizens’ political attitudes as seen in the 2016 USA and 2017 French elections [ 17 ]. Of late, people rely heavily on Twitter and Facebook to collect the latest happenings from mainstream media [ 18 ].

Combating misinformation in social media has been a challenging task for governments in several countries. When social media influences elections [ 17 ] and health campaigns (like vaccination), governments and international agencies demand social media owners to take necessary actions to combat misinformation [ 13 , 15 ]. Platforms began to regulate bots that were used to spread misinformation. Facebook announced the filtering of their algorithms to combat misinformation, down-ranking the post flagged by their fact-checkers which will reduce the popularity of the post or page. [ 17 ]. However, misinformation has become a complicated issue due to the growth of new users and the emergence of new social media platforms. Jang et al. [ 19 ] have suggested two approaches other than governmental regulation to control misinformation literary and corrective. The literary approach proposes educating users to increase their cognitive ability to differentiate misinformation from the information. The corrective approach provides more fact-checking facilities for users. Warnings would be provided against potentially fabricated content based on crowdsourcing. Both approaches have limitations; the literary approach attracted criticism as it transfers responsibility for the spread of misinformation to citizens. The corrective approach will only have a limited impact as the volume of fabricated content escalates [ 19 – 21 ].

An overview of the literature on misinformation reveals that most investigations focus on examining the methods to combat misinformation. Social media platforms are still discovering new tools and techniques to mitigate misinformation from their platforms, this calls for a research to understand their strategies.

Review method

This research followed a systematic literature review process. The study employed a structured approach based on Webster’s Guidelines [ 22 ] to identify relevant literature on the spread of misinformation. These guidelines helped in maintaining a quality standard while selecting the literature for review. The initial stage of the study involved exploring research papers from relevant databases to understand the volumes and availability of research articles. We extended the literature search to interdisciplinary databases too. We gathered articles from Web of Science, ACM digital library, AIS electronic library, EBSCO host business source premier, ScienceDirect, Scopus, and Springer link. Apart from this, a manual search was performed in Information Systems (IS) scholars' basket of journals [ 23 ] to ensure we did not miss any articles from these journals. We have also preferred articles that have Data Science and Information Systems background. The systematic review process began with keyword search using predefined keywords (Fig.  2 ). We identified related synonyms such as 'misinformation', 'rumors', 'spread', and 'social media' along with their combinations for the search process. The keyword search was on the title, abstract, and on the list of keywords. The literature search was conducted in the month of April 2020. Later, we revisited the literature in December 2021 to include latest publications from 2020 to 2021.

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Systematic literature review process

It was observed that scholarly discussion about ‘misinformation and social media’ began to appear in research after 2008. Later in 2010, the topic gained more attention when Twitter bots were used or spreading fake news on the replacement of a USA Senator [ 24 ]. Hate campaigns and fake follower activities were simultaneously growing during that period. As evident from Fig.  1 , showing number of articles published between 2005 and 2021 on misinformation in three databases: Scopus, S pringer, and EBSCO, academic engagement on misinformation seems to have gained more impetus after the 2016 US Presidential election, when social media platforms had apparently influenced the election [ 20 ].

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Articles published on misinformation during 2005–2021 (Databases; Scopus, Springer, and EBSCO)

As Data Science is an interdisciplinary field, the focus of our literature review goes beyond disciplinary boundaries. In particular, we focused on the three domains of disaster, health, and politics. This thematic focus of our review has two underlying reasons (a) the impact of misinformation through social media is sporadic and has the most damaging effects in these three domains and (b) our selection criteria in systematic review finally resulted in research papers that related to these three domains. This review has excluded platforms that are designed for professional and business users such as LinkedIn and Behance. A rational for the choice of these themes are discussed in the next section.

Inclusion–exclusion criteria

Figure  2 depicts the systematic review process followed in this study. In our preliminary search, 2148 records were retrieved from databases—all those articles were gathered onto a spreadsheet, which was manually cross-checked with the journals linked to the articles. Studies published during 2005–2021, studies published in English language, articles published from peer-reviewed journals, journals rating and papers relevant to misinformation were used as the inclusion criteria. We have excluded reviews, thesis, dissertations, and editorials; and articles on misinformation that are not akin to social media. To fetch the best from these articles, we selected articles that were from top journals, rated above three according to ABS rating and A*, A, and B according to ABDC rating. This process, while ensuring the quality of papers, also effectively shortened purview of study to 643 articles of acceptable quality. We have not performed track-back and track-forward on references. During this process, duplicate records were also identified and removed. Further screening of articles based on the title, abstract, and full text (wherever necessary)—brought down the number to 207 articles.

Further screening based on the three themes reduced the focus to 89 articles. We conducted a full-text analysis of these 89 articles. We further excluded articles that had not considered misinformation as a central theme and finally arrived at 28 articles for detailed review (Table ​ (Table1 1 ).

Reviewed articles

The selected studies used a variety of research methods to examine the misinformation on social media. Experimentation and text mining of tweets emerged as the most frequent research methods; there were 11 studies that used experimental methods, and eight used Twitter data analyses. Apart from these, there were three survey methods, two mixed methods, and case study methods each, and one opportunistic sampling and exploratory study each. The selected literature for review includes nine articles on disaster, eight on healthcare, and eleven from politics. We preferred papers for review based on three major social media platforms; Twitter, Facebook, and WhatsApp. These are the three social media owners with the highest transmission rates and most active users [ 25 ] and most likely platforms for misinformation propagation.

Coding procedure

Initially both the authors have manually coded the articles individually by reading full text of each article and then identified the three themes; disaster, health, and politics. We used an inductive coding approach to derive codes from the data. The intercoder reliability rate between the authors were 82.1%. Disagreement among authors related to deciding in which theme few papers fall under were discussed and a resolution was arrived at. Later we used NVIVO, a qualitative data analysis software, to analyze unstructured data to encode and categorize the themes from the articles. The codes emerged from the articles were categorized into sub-themes and later attached to the main themes; disaster, health, and politics. NVIVO produced a rank list of codes based on frequency of occurrence (“ Appendix ”). An intercoder reliability check was completed for the data by an external research scholar having a different areas of expertise to ensure reliability. The coder agreed upon 26 articles out of 28 (92.8%), which indicated a high level intercoder reliability [ 49 ]. The independent researcher’s disagreement about the code for two authors was discussed between the authors and the research scholar and a consensus was arrived at.

We initially reviewed articles separately from the categories of disaster, health, and politics. We first provide emergent issues that cut across these themes.

Social media misinformation research

Disaster, health, and politics emerged as the three domains (“ Appendix ”) where misinformation can cause severe harm, often leading to casualties or even irreversible effects. The mitigation of these effects can also demand substantial financial or human resources burden considering the scale of effect and risk of spreading negative information to the public altogether. All these areas are sensitive in nature. Further, disaster, health, and politics have gained the attention of researchers and governments as the challenges of misinformation confronting these domains are rampant. Besides sensitivity, misinformation in these areas has higher potential to exacerbate the existing crisis in society. During the 2020 Munich security conference, WHO’s Director-General noted: “We are not just fighting an epidemic; we are fighting an infodemic”, referring to the faster spread of COVID-19 misinformation than the virus [ 50 ].

More than 6000 people were hospitalized due to COVID-19 related misinformation in the first three months of 2020 [ 51 ]. As COVID-19 vaccination began, one of the popular myths was that Bill Gates wanted to use vaccines to embed microchips in people to track them and this created vaccine hesitancy among the citizens [ 52 ]. These reports show the severity of the spread of misinformation and how misinformation can aggravate a public health crisis.

Misinformation during disaster

In the context of emergency situations (unforeseen circumstances), the credibility of social media information has often been questioned [ 11 ]. When a crisis occurs, affected communities often experience a lack of localized information needed for them to make emergency decisions. This accelerates the spread of misinformation as people tend to fill this information gap with misinformation or 'improvised news' [ 9 , 24 , 25 ]. The broadcasting power of social media and re-sharing of misinformation could weaken and slow down rescue operations [ 24 , 25 ]. As the local people have more access to the disaster area, they become immediate reporters of a crisis through social media. Mainstream media comes into picture only later. However, recent incidents reveals that voluntary reporting of this kind has begun to affect rescue operations negatively as it often acts as a collective rumor mill [ 9 ], which propagates misinformation. During the 2018 floods in the South-Indian state of Kerala a fake video on Mullaperiyar Dam leakage created unnecessary panic among the citizens, thus negatively impacting the rescue operations [ 53 ]. Information from mainstream media is relatively more reliable as they have traditional gatekeepers such as peer reviewers and editors who cross-check the information source before publication. Chua et al. [ 28 ] found that a major chunk of corrective tweets were retweeted from mainstream news media, thus mainstream media is considered as a preferred rumor correction channel, where they attempt to correct misinformation with the right information.

Characterizing disaster misinformation

Oh et al. [ 9 ] studied citizen-driven information processing based on three social crises using rumor theory. The main characteristic of a crisis is the complexity of information processing and sharing [ 9 , 24 ]. A task is considered complex when characterized by increase in information load, information diversity or rate of information change [ 54 ]. Information overload and information dearth are the two grave concerns that interrupt the communication between the affected community and a rescue team. Information overload, where too many enquiries and fake news distract a response team, slows them down to recognize valid information [ 9 , 27 ]. According to Balan and Mathew [ 55 ] information overload occurs when volume of information such as complexity of words and multiple languages that exceeds and cannot be processed by a human being. Here information dearth in our context is the lack of localized information that is supposed to help the affected community to make emergency decisions. When the official government communication channels or mainstream media cannot fulfill citizen's needs, they resort to information from their social media peers [ 9 , 27 , 29 ].

In a social crisis context, Tamotsu Shibutani [ 56 ] defines rumoring as collective sharing and exchange of information, which helps the community members to reach a common understanding about the crisis situation [ 30 ]. This mechanism works in social media, which creates information dearth and information overload. Anxiety, information ambiguity (source ambiguity and content ambiguity), personal involvement, and social ties are the rumor-causing variables in a crisis context [ 9 , 27 ]. In general, anxiety is a negative feeling caused by distress or stressful situation, which fabricates or produces adverse outcomes [ 57 ]. In the context of a crisis or emergency, a community may experience anxiety in the absence of reliable information or in other cases when confronted with overload of information, making it difficult to take appropriate decisions. Under such circumstances, people may tend to rely on rumors as a primary source of information. The influence level of anxiety is higher during a community crisis than during a business crisis [ 9 ]. However, anxiety, as an attribute, varies based on the nature of platforms. For example, Oh et al. [ 9 ] found that the Twitter community do not fall into social pressure as like WhatsApp community [ 30 ]. Simon et al. [ 30 ] developed a model of rumor retransmission on social media and identified information ambiguity, anxiety and personal involvement as motives for rumormongering. Attractiveness is another rumor-causing variable. It occurs when aesthetically appealing visual aids or designs capture a receiver’s attention. Here believability matters more than the content’s reliability or the truth of the information received.

The second stage of the spread of misinformation is misinformation retransmission. Apart from the rumor-causing variables that are reported in Oh et al. [ 9 ], Liu et al. [ 13 ] found senders credibility and attractiveness as significant variables related to misinformation retransmission. Personal involvement and content ambiguity can also affect misinformation transmission [ 13 ]. Abdullah et al. [ 25 ] explored retweeter's motive on the Twitter platform to spread disaster information. Content relevance, early information [ 27 , 31 ], trustworthiness of the content, emotional influence [ 30 ], retweet count, pro-social behavior (altruistic behavior among the citizens during the crisis), and the need to inform their circle are the factors that drive users’ retweet [ 25 ]. Lee et al. [ 26 ] have also examined the impact of Twitter features on message diffusion based on the 2013 Boston marathon tragedy. The study reported that during crisis events (especially during disasters), a tweet that has less reaction time (time between the crisis and initial tweet) and had higher impact than other tweets. This shows that to an extent, misinformation can be controlled if officials could communicate at the early stage of a crisis [ 27 ]. Liu et al. [ 13 ] showed that tweets with hashtags influence spread of misinformation. Further, Lee et al. [ 26 ] found that tweets with no hashtags had more influence due to contextual differences. For instance, usage of hashtags for marketing or advertising has a positive impact, while in the case of disaster or emergency situations, usage of hashtags (as in case of Twitter) has a negative impact. Messages with no hashtag get widely diffused when compared to messages with the hashtag [ 26 ].

Oh et al. [ 15 ] explored the behavioral aspects of social media participants that led to retransmission and spread of misinformation. They found that when people believe a threatening piece of misinformation they received, they are more likely to spread it, and they take necessary safety measures (sometimes even extreme actions). Repetition of the same misinformation from different sources also makes it more believable [ 28 ]. However, when they realize the received information was false they were less likely to share it with others [ 13 , 26 ]. The characteristics of the platform used to deliver the misinformation also matters. For instance, numbers of likes and shares of the information increases the believability of the social media post [ 47 ].

In summary, we found that platform architecture also has an essential role in spreading and believability of misinformation. While conducting this systematic literature review, we observed that more studies on disaster and misinformation are based on the Twitter platform. The six papers out of nine that we reviewed on disaster area were based on the Twitter platform. When a message was delivered in video format, it had a higher impact compared to audio or text messages. If the message had a religious or cultural narrative, it led to behavioral action (danger control response) [ 15 ]. Users were more likely to spread misinformation through WhatsApp than Twitter. It was difficult to find the source of shared information on WhatsApp [ 30 ].

Misinformation related to healthcare

From our review, we found two systematic literature reviews that discusses health-related misinformation on social media. Yang et al. [ 58 ] explores the characteristics, impact and influences of health misinformation on social media. Wang et al. [ 59 ] addresses health misinformation related to vaccines and infectious diseases. This review shows that health-related misinformation, especially on M.M.R. vaccine and autism are largely spreading on social media and the government is unable to control it.

The spread of health misinformation is an emerging issue facing public health authorities. Health misinformation could delay proper treatment to patients, which could further add more casualties to the public health domain [ 28 , 59 , 60 ]. Often people tend to believe health-related information that is shared by their peers. Some of them tend to share their treatment experience or traditional remedies online. This information could be in a different context and may not be even accurate [ 33 , 34 ]. Compared to health-related websites, the language used to detail the health information shared on social media will be simple and may not include essential details [ 35 , 37 ]. Some studies reported that conspiracy theories and pseudoscience have escalated casualties [ 33 ]. Pseudoscience is the term referred to as the false claim, which pretends as if the shared misinformation has scientific evidence. The anti-vaccination movement on Twitter is one of the examples of pseudoscience [ 61 ]. Here the user might have shared the information due to the lack of scientific knowledge [ 35 ].

Characterizing healthcare misinformation

The attributes that characterize healthcare misinformation are distinctly different from other domains. Chua and Banerjee, [ 37 ] identified the characteristics of health misinformation as dread and wish. Dread is the rumor which creates more panic and unpleasant consequences. For example, in the wake of COVID-19, misinformation was widely shared on social media, which claimed that children 'died on the spot' after the mass COVID-19 vaccination program in Senegal, West Africa [ 61 ]. This message created panic among the citizens, as the misinformation was shared more than 7000 times on Facebook [ 61 ]. Wish is the type of rumor that gives hope to the receiver (e.g.,: rumor on free medicine distribution) [ 62 ]. Dread rumor looks more trustworthy and more likely to get viral. Dread rumor was the cause of violence against a minority group in India during COVID-19 [ 7 ]. Chua and Banerjee, [ 32 ] added pictorial and textual representations as the characteristics of health misinformation. The rumor that contains only text is textual rumor. Pictorial rumor on the other hand contains both text and images. However, Chua and Banerjee, [ 32 ] found that users prefer textual rumor than pictorial. Unlike rumors that are circulated during a natural disaster, health misinformation will be long-lasting, and it can spread cutting across boundaries. Personal involvement (the importance of information for both sender and receiver), rumor type and presence of counter rumor are some of the variables that can escalate users’ trusting and sharing behavior related to rumor [ 37 ]. The study of Madraki et al. [ 46 ] study on COVID-19 misinformation /disinformation reported that COVID-19 misinformation on social media differs significantly based on the languages, countries and their culture and beliefs. Acceptance of social media platforms as well as Governmental censorship also play an important role here.

Widespread misinformation could also change collective opinion [ 29 ]. Online users’ epistemic beliefs could control their sharing decisions. Chua and Banerjee, [ 32 ] argued that epistemologically naïve users (users who think knowledge can be acquired easily) are the type of users who accelerate the spread of misinformation on platforms. Those who read or share the misinformation are not likely to follow it [ 37 ]. Gu and Hong [ 34 ] examined health misinformation on mobile social media context. Mobile internet users are different from large screen users. The mobile phone user might have a more emotional attachment toward the gadget. It also motivates them to believe received misinformation. The corrective effort focused on large screen users may not work with mobile phone users or small screen users. Chua and Banerjee [ 32 ] suggested that simplified sharing options of platforms also motivate users to share the received misinformation before validating it. Shahi et al. [ 47 ] found that misinformation is also propagated or shared even by the verified Twitter handles. They become a part of misinformation transmission either by creating it or endorsing it by liking or sharing the information.

The focus of existing studies is heavily based on data from social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, although other platforms too escalate the spread of misinformation. Such a phenomenon was evident in the wake of COVID-19 as an intense trend of misinformation spread was reported on WhatsApp, TikTok, and Instagram.

Social media misinformation and politics

There have been several studies on the influence of misinformation on politics across the world [ 43 , 44 ]. Political misinformation has been predominantly used to influence the voters. The USA Presidential election of 2016, French election of 2017 and Indian elections in 2019 have been reported as examples where misinformation has influenced election process [ 15 , 17 , 45 ]. During the 2016 USA election, the partisan effect was a key challenge, where false information was presented as if it was from an authorized source [ 39 ]. Based on a user's prior behavior on the platform, algorithms can manipulate the user's feed [ 40 ]. In a political context, fake news can create more harm as it can influence the voters and the public. Although, fake news has less ‘life’, it's consequences may not be short living. Verification of fake news takes time and by the time verification results are shared, fake news could achieve its goal [ 43 , 48 , 63 ].

Characterizing misinformation in politics

Confirmation bias has a dominant role in social media misinformation related to politics. Readers are more likely to read and engage with the information that confirms their preexisting beliefs and political affiliations and reject information that challenges it [ 46 , 48 ]. For example, in the 2016 USA election, Pro-Trump fake news was accepted by Republicans [ 19 ]. Misinformation spreads quickly among people who have similar ideologies [ 19 ]. The nature of interface also could escalate the spread of misinformation. Kim and Dennis [ 36 ] investigated the influence of platforms' information presentation format and reported that social media platforms indirectly force users to accept certain information; they present information such that little importance is given to the source of information. This presentation is manipulative as people tend to believe information from a reputed source and are more likely to reject information that is from a less-known source [ 42 ].

Pennycook et al. [ 39 ], and Garrett and Poulsen [ 40 ] argued that warning tags (or flagging) on the headline can reduce the spread of misinformation. However, it is not practical to assign warning tags to all misinformation as it gets generated faster than valid information. The fact-checking process in social media also takes time. Hence, people tend to believe that the headlines which do not have warning tags are true and the idea of warning tags will thus not serve any purpose [ 39 ]. Furthermore, it could increase the reader's belief in warning tags and lead to misperception [ 39 ]. Readers tend to believe that all information is verified and consider untagged false information as more accurate. This phenomenon is known as the implied truth effect [ 39 ]. In this case, source reputation rating will influence the credibility of the information. The reader gives less importance to the source that has a low rating [ 17 , 50 ].

Theoretical perspectives of social media misinformation

We identified six theories among the articles we reviewed in relation to social media misinformation. We found rumor theory was used most frequently among all the studies chosen for our review; the theory was used in four articles as a theoretical foundation [ 9 , 11 , 13 , 37 , 43 ]. Oh et al. [ 9 ], studied citizen-driven information processing on Twitter using rumor theory in three social crises. This paper identified four key variables (source ambiguity, personal involvement, and anxiety) that spread misinformation. The authors further examined the acceptance of hate rumors and the aftermath of community crisis based on the Bangalore mass exodus of 2012. Liu et al. [ 13 ], examined the reason behind the retransmission of messages using rumor theory in disasters. Hazel Kwon and Raghav Rao [ 43 ] investigated how internet surveillance by the government impacts citizens’ involvement with cyber-rumors during a homeland security threat. Diffusion theory has also been used in IS research to discern the adoption of technological innovation. Researchers have used diffusion theory to study the retweeting behavior among Twitter users (tweet diffusion) during extreme events [ 26 ]. This research investigated information diffusion during extreme events based on four major elements of diffusion: innovation, time, communication channels and social systems. Kim et al. [ 36 ] examined the effect of rating news sources on users’ belief in social media articles based on three different rating mechanisms expert rating, user article rating and user source rating. Reputation theory was used to show how users would discern cognitive biases in expert ratings.

Murungi et al. [ 38 ] used rhetorical theory to argue that fact-checkers have less effectiveness on fake news that spreads on social media platforms. The study proposed a different approaches by focusing on underlying belief structure that accepts misinformation. The theory was used to identify fake news and socially constructed beliefs in the context of Alabama’s senatorial election in 2017. Using third person effect as the theoretical ground, the characteristics of rumor corrections on Twitter platform have also been examined in the context of death hoax of Singapore’s first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew [ 28 ]. This paper explored the motives behind collective rumor and identified the key characteristics of collective rumor correction. Using situational crisis communication theory (SCCT), Paek and Hove [ 44 ] examined how government could effectively respond to risk-related rumors during national-level crises in the context of food safety rumor. Refuting rumor, denying it and attacking the source of rumor are the three rumor response strategies suggested by the authors to counter rumor-mongering (Table ​ (Table2 2 ).

Theories used in social media misinformation research

Determinants of misinformation in social media platforms

Figure  3 depicts the concepts that emerged from our review using a framework of Antecedents-Misinformation-Outcomes (AMIO) framework, an approach we adapt from Smith HJ et al. [ 66 ]. Originally developed to study information privacy, the Antecedent-Privacy-Concerns-Outcomes (APCO) framework provided a nomological canvas to present determinants, mediators and outcome variables pertaining to information privacy. Following this canvas, we discuss the antecedents of misinformation, mediators of misinformation and misinformation outcomes, as they emerged from prior studies (Fig.  3 ).

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Determinants of misinformation

Anxiety, source ambiguity, trustworthiness, content ambiguity, personal involvement, social ties, confirmation bias, attractiveness, illiteracy, ease of sharing options and device attachment emerged as the variables determining misinformation in social media.

Anxiety is the emotional feeling of the person who sends or receives the information. If the person is anxious about the information received, he or she is more likely to share or spread misinformation [ 9 ]. Source ambiguity deals with the origin of the message. When the person is convinced of the source of information, it increases his trustworthiness and the person shares it. Content ambiguity addresses the content clarity of the information [ 9 , 13 ]. Personal involvement denotes how much the information is important for both the sender and receiver [ 9 ]. Social ties, information shared by a family member or social peers will influence the person to share the information [ 9 , 13 ]. From prior literature, it is understood that confirmation bias is one of the root causes of political misinformation. Research on attractiveness of the received information reveals that users tend to believe and share the information that is received on her or his personal device [ 34 ]. After receiving the misinformation from various sources, users accept it based on their existing beliefs, and social, cognitive factors and political factors. Oh et al. [ 15 ] observed that during crises, people by default have a tendency to believe unverified information especially when it helps them to make sense of the situation. Misinformation has significant effects on individuals and society. Loss of lives [ 9 , 15 , 28 , 30 ], economic loss [ 9 , 44 ], loss of health [ 32 , 35 ] and loss of reputation [ 38 , 43 ] are the major outcome of misinformation emerged from our review.

Strategies for controlling the spread of misinformation

Discourse on social media misinformation mitigation has resulted in prioritization of strategies such as early communication from the officials and use of scientific evidence [ 9 , 35 ]. When people realize that the received information or message is false, they are less likely to share that information with others [ 15 ]. Other strategies are 'rumor refutation—reducing citizens' intention to spread misinformation by real information which reduces their uncertainty and serves to control misinformation [ 44 ]. Rumor correction models for social media platforms also employ algorithms and crowdsourcing [ 28 ]. Majority of the papers that we have reviewed suggested fact-checking by experts, source rating of the received information, attaching warning tags to the headlines or entire news [ 36 ], and flagging content by the platform owners [ 40 ] as the strategies to control the spread of misinformation. Studies on controlling misinformation in the public health context showed that the government could also seek the help of public health professionals to mitigate misinformation [ 31 ].

However, the aforementioned strategies have been criticized for several limitations. Most papers mentioned confirmation bias as having a significant impact on the misinformation mitigation strategies, especially in the political context where people tend to believe the information that matches their prior belief. Garrett and Poulsen [ 40 ] argued that during an emergency situation, misinformation recipient may not be able to characterize the misinformation as true or false. Thus, providing alternative explanation or the real information to the users have more effect than providing fact-checking report. Studies by Garrett and Poulsen [ 40 ], and Pennycook et al. [ 39 ] reveal a drawback of attaching warning tags to news headlines. Once the flagging or tagging of the information is introduced, the information with the absence of tags will be considered as true or reliable information. This creates an implied truth effect. Further, it is also not always practical to evaluate all social media posts. Similarly, Kim and Dennis [ 36 ] studied fake news flagging and found that fake news flags did not influence users’ belief. However, they created cognitive dissonance and users were in search of the truthfulness of the headline. Later in 2017 Facebook discontinued the fake news flagging service owing to its limitations [ 45 ]

Key research gaps and future directions

Although, misinformation is a multi-sectoral issue, our systematic review observed that interdisciplinary research on social media misinformation is relatively scarce. ‘Confirmation bias’ is one of the most significant behavioral problem that motivates the spread of misinformation. However, lack of research on it reveals the scope for future interdisciplinary research across the fields of Data Science, Information Systems and Psychology in domains such as politics and health care. In the disaster context, there is a scope for study on the behavior of a first respondent and an emergency manager to understand their information exchange pattern with the public. Similarly, future researchers could analyze communication patterns between citizens and frontline workers in the public health context, which may be useful to design counter-misinformation campaigns and awareness interventions. Since information disorder is a multi-sectoral issue, researchers need to understand misinformation patterns among multiple government departments for coordinated counter-misinformation intervention.

There is a further dearth of studies on institutional responses to control misinformation. To fill the gap, future studies could concentrate on the analysis of governmental and organizational interventions to control misinformation at the level of policies, regulatory mechanisms, and communication strategies. For example, in India there is no specific law against misinformation but there are some provisions in the Information Technology Act (IT Act) and Disaster Management Act which can control misinformation and disinformation. An example of awareness intervention is an initiative named ‘Satyameva Jayate’ launched in Kannur district of Kerala, India which focused on sensitizing children at school to spot misinformation [ 67 ]. As noted earlier, within the research on Misinformation in the political context, there is a lack of research on strategies adopted by the state to counter misinformation. Therefore, building on cases like 'Satyameva Jayate' would further contribute to knowledge in this area.

Technology-based strategies adopted by social media to control the spread of misinformation emphasize the corrective algorithms, keywords and hashtags as a solution [ 32 , 37 , 43 ]. However, these corrective measures have their own limitations. Misinformation corrective algorithms are ineffective if not used immediately after the misinformation has been created. Related hashtags and keywords are used by researchers to find content shared on social media platforms to retrieve data. However, it may not be possible for researchers to cover all the keywords or hashtags employed by users. Further, algorithms may not decipher content shared in regional languages. Another limitation of algorithms employed by platforms is that they recommend and often display content based on user activities and interests which limits the users access to information from multiple perspectives, thus reinforcing their existing belief [ 29 ]. A reparative measure is to display corrective information as 'related stories' for misinformation. However, Facebook’s related stories algorithm only activates when an individual clicks on an outside link, which limits the number of people who will see the corrective information through the algorithm which turns out to be a challenge. Future research could investigate the impact of related stories as a corrective measure by analyzing the relation between misinformation and frequency of related stories posted vis a vis real information.

Our review also found a scarcity of research on the spread of misinformation on certain social media platforms while studies being skewed toward a few others. Of the studies reviewed, 15 articles were concentrated on misinformation spread on Twitter and Facebook. Although, from recent news reports it is evident that largely misinformation and disinformation are spread through popular messaging platforms like the 'WhatsApp', ‘Telegram’, ‘WeChat’, and ‘Line’, research using data from these platforms are, however, scanty. Especially in the Indian context, the magnitude of problems arising from misinformation through WhatsApp are overwhelming [ 68 ]. To address the lacunae of research on messaging platforms, we suggest future researchers to concentrate on investigating the patterns of misinformation spreading on platforms like WhatsApp. Moreover, message diffusion patterns are unique to each social media platform; therefore, it is useful to study the misinformation diffusion patterns on different social media platforms. Future studies could also address the differential roles, patterns and intensity of the spread of misinformation on various messaging and photo/ video-sharing social networking services.

Evident from our review, most research on misinformation is based on Euro-American context and the dominant models proposed for controlling misinformation may have limited applicability to other regions. Moreover, the popularity of social media platforms and usage patterns are diverse across the globe consequent to cultural differences and political regimes of the region, therefore necessitating researchers of social media to take cognizance of empirical experiences of ' left-over' regions.

To understand the spread of misinformation on social media platforms, we conducted a systematic literature review in three important domains where misinformation is rampant: disaster, health, and politics. We reviewed 28 articles relevant to the themes chosen for the study. This is one of the earliest reviews focusing on social media misinformation research, especially based on three sensitive domains. We have discussed how misinformation spreads in the three sectors, the methodologies that have been used by researchers, theoretical perspectives, Antecedents-Misinformation-Outcomes (AMIO) framework for understanding key concepts and their inter-relationships, and strategies to control the spread of misinformation.

Our review also identified major gaps in IS research on misinformation in social media. This includes the need for methodological innovations in addition to experimental methods which have been widely used. This study has some limitations that we acknowledge. We might not have identified all relevant papers on spread of misinformation on social media from existing literature as some authors might have used different keywords and also due to our strict inclusion and exclusion criteria. There might also have been relevant publications in languages other than English which were not covered in this review. Our focus on three domains also restricted the number of papers we reviewed.

Author contributions

TMS: Conceptualization, Methodology, Investigation, Writing—Original Draft, SKM: Writing—Review & Editing, Supervision.

This research did not receive any specific Grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.


On behalf of two authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest in this research paper.

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Contributor Information

Sadiq Muhammed T, Email: [email protected] .

Saji K. Mathew, Email: .

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Teens, social media and technology 2023, youtube, tiktok, snapchat and instagram remain the most widely used online platforms among u.s. teens.

An image of teenagers using their smartphones together

Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand teens’ use of digital devices, social media and other online platforms.

The Center conducted an online survey of 1,453 U.S. teens from Sept. 26 to Oct. 23, 2023, through Ipsos. Ipsos recruited the teens via their parents, who were part of its KnowledgePanel . The KnowledgePanel is a probability-based web panel recruited primarily through national, random sampling of residential addresses. The survey was weighted to be representative of U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 who live with their parents by age, gender, race and ethnicity, household income, and other categories.

This research was reviewed and approved by an external institutional review board (IRB), Advarra, an independent committee of experts specializing in helping to protect the rights of research participants.

Here are  the questions used for this analysis , along with responses, and  its methodology ­­­. A note on terminology : Our September-October 2023 survey asked about “Twitter (recently renamed to ‘X’).” The terms Twitter and X are both used in this report to refer to the same platform.

Despite negative headlines and growing concerns about social media’s impact on youth, teens continue to use these platforms at high rates – with some describing their social media use as “almost constant,” according to a new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. teens.

The survey – conducted Sept. 26-Oct. 23, 2023, among 1,453 13- to 17-year-olds – covered social media, internet use and device ownership among teens.

Here’s a look at the key findings related to online platforms:

A line chart showing that YouTube continues to be top platform among teens, followed by TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram

YouTube continues to dominate. Roughly nine-in-ten teens say they use YouTube, making it the most widely used platform measured in our survey.

TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram remain popular among teens: Majorities of teens ages 13 to 17 say they use TikTok (63%), Snapchat (60%) and Instagram (59%). For older teens ages 15 to 17, these shares are about seven-in-ten.

Teens are less likely to be using Facebook and Twitter (recently renamed X) than they were a decade ago: Facebook once dominated the social media landscape among America’s youth, but the share of teens who use the site has dropped from 71% in 2014-2015 to 33% today. Twitter, which was renamed X in July 2023, has also seen its teen user base shrink during the past decade – albeit at a less steep decline than Facebook.

Teens’ site and app usage has changed little in the past year. The share of teens using these platforms has remained relatively stable since spring 2022, when the Center last surveyed on these topics. For example, the percentage of teens who use TikTok is statistically unchanged since last year.

And for the first time, we asked teens about using BeReal: 13% report using this app.

  • Teens and adults weigh in on social media policies aimed at youth
  • Where teens and adults stand on banning TikTok

How often do teens visit online platforms?

In addition to asking teens about the types of platforms they use, we also asked them how often they use five specific platforms: YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. 

Circular area charts showing that Nearly 1 in 5 teens say they’re on YouTube, TikTok ‘almost constantly’

YouTube, the most widely used platform measured in the survey, is also frequently visited by its users. About seven-in-ten teens say they visit the video-sharing platform daily, including 16% who report being on the site almost constantly.

A bar chart showing A majority of teens visit YouTube, TikTok daily

At the same time, 58% of teens are daily users of TikTok. This includes 17% who describe their TikTok use as almost constant.

About half of teens use Snapchat and Instagram daily. A somewhat larger share reports using Snapchat almost constantly compared with Instagram (14% vs. 8%).

Far fewer teens say they use Facebook on a daily basis (19%), with only 3% saying they are on the site almost constantly.  

Taken together, a third of teens use at least one of these five sites almost constantly – which is similar to what we found last year .   

A dot plot showing that Teen girls far more likely than boys to say they use TikTok almost constantly

Teen girls are more likely than boys to say they almost constantly use TikTok (22% vs. 12%) and Snapchat (17% vs. 12%).

But there are little to no differences in the shares of boys and girls who report almost constantly using YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

By race and ethnicity

We also see differences by race and ethnicity in how much time teens report spending on these platforms.

Larger shares of Black and Hispanic teens report being on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok almost constantly, compared with a smaller share of White teens who say the same. 1

Hispanic teens stand out in TikTok and Snapchat use. For instance, 32% of Hispanic teens say they are on TikTok almost constantly, compared with 20% of Black teens and 10% of White teens.

A bar chart showing that About 1 in 3 Hispanic teens say they’re almost constantly on TikTok

How use of online platforms differs across demographic groups

While some sites are commonly used among all teens, there are some differences by gender, race and ethnicity, age, and household income.

A chart showing that Teen girls more likely than boys to use several sites, including Instagram, Snapchat

Teen girls are more likely than teen boys to say they use Instagram (66% vs. 53%). BeReal, TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook also are more commonly used by teen girls.

On the other hand, teen boys are more likely than teen girls to use Discord (34% vs. 22%) and Twitch (22% vs. 11%). Similarly, a larger share of boys than girls use Reddit and YouTube.

Eight-in-ten Black teens report using TikTok, compared with 70% of Hispanic teens and 57% of White teens. Racial and ethnic gaps are also present in use of Twitter: Black teens are more likely than Hispanic or White teens to be Twitter users.

When it comes to WhatsApp, Hispanic teens are more likely than Black or White teens to say they use the messaging platform.

BeReal is the only platform asked about that White teens are more likely to use than Black or Hispanic teens.

Older teens are more likely than younger teens to use many of the platforms asked about, including Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Reddit. For example, while 68% of teens ages 15 to 17 say they use Instagram, this share drops to 45% among teens ages 13 and 14.

By household income

While fewer teens overall are using Facebook, our surveys consistently show that usage remains higher among teens in lower-income households . For example, 45% of teens in households earning less than $30,000 a year say they use Facebook, compared with 27% of those whose annual household income is $75,000 or more.

Income gaps are also present in TikTok use: Larger shares of teens in lower-income households are users compared with those in the highest-income households (71% vs. 61%).

In comparison, BeReal is more commonly used among teens in households earning $75,000 or more a year. Some 16% of teens in this category say they use this app, compared with about one-in-ten whose annual household income falls below $75,000.

How much time are teens spending online?

A bar chart showing that The share of teens who say they are online ‘almost constantly’ has roughly doubled since 2014-2015

In addition to asking teens about their social media use, we also examined the amount of time they report spending online.

Nearly half of teens say they use the internet “almost constantly.” This is on par with what we found last year, but roughly double the 24% who said this in the 2014-2015 survey.

Overall, more than nine-in-ten say they use the internet at least daily.

A bar chart saying that Black, Hispanic teens more likely than White teens to say they are online almost constantly

As was true in previous Center surveys , the amount of time teens report spending online varies by race and ethnicity.

While 55% of Hispanic and 54% of Black teens report being on the internet almost constantly, the share drops to 38% among White teens.

Older teens ages 15 to 17 are somewhat more likely than younger teens to be near-constant internet users (50% vs. 40%).

Device usage: Smartphones, computers, gaming consoles and tablets

A bar chart showing that Nearly all teens in the U.S. have access to a smartphone

Today’s teens have several ways to go online, connect with others and find information.

Our survey finds that most teens have or have access to a smartphone (95%), a desktop or laptop computer (90%), or a gaming console (83%). A smaller share – though still a 65% majority – say the same for tablets. 

Smartphone ownership is nearly universal among teens of different genders, ages, races and ethnicities, and economic backgrounds. But having access to a home computer remains less common for those in lower-income households.

Roughly seven-in-ten teens living in households earning less than $30,000 a year (72%) say they have access to a home computer. That share rises among those whose annual household income is $30,000 to $74,999 (87%) or $75,000 and above (94%).

Tablet ownership is also less common among teens in lower-income households: 57% say they have access to a tablet at home, compared with 67% of those living in the highest-income households.

Most teen boys and girls report having access to a game console at home, but more boys say this than girls (91% vs. 75%).

  • There were not enough Asian teens in the sample to be broken out into a separate analysis. As always, their responses are incorporated into the general population figures throughout the report. ↩

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Table of contents, a declining share of adults, and few teens, support a u.s. tiktok ban, 81% of u.s. adults – versus 46% of teens – favor parental consent for minors to use social media, more so than adults, u.s. teens value people feeling safe online over being able to speak freely, u.s. teens are more likely than adults to support the black lives matter movement, how teens navigate school during covid-19, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

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  • A Research Guide
  • Research Paper Topics

40 Media and Communications Research Paper Topics

  • What is communication? The birth of the media as we know it
  • Media, Censorship and Propaganda
  • The freedom of speech and its impact on the media
  • The main aspects of communication
  • The triggering topics. What do you need to start an instant “holywar” in media?
  • The phenomenon of hype and its usage of the media
  • Single bloggers versus media companies
  • Communication and media psychology
  • The history of advertising and its important in the modern business
  • The popular culture in the media
  • Video games. Can they be considered a media now?
  • Violence and controversial topics. Shall the media censor it out?
  • The peculiarities of children media
  • Are the videoblogs the new diaries?
  • Mainstream media versus arthouse
  • What is the age of post-truth in the media?
  • Social networks as the main way of communication in the modern world
  • Why exclusive material is so important in the media?
  • Fandom and fanfiction in the media
  • Mass Communication Laws in different countries
  • Media and disasters: enhancing panic or preventing it?
  • Terrorism in the media
  • Changes in the media during the wartime
  • Journalism ethics: what is it?
  • International journalism
  • Journalists on the battlefield
  • Media policy and regulation in different countries
  • How did the Internet influence media development?
  • Media: reacting to the events or creating them?
  • Virtual reality: may it be the future of the media?
  • Media downshifting: why do people revert to newspapers again?
  • Social media marketing campaigns
  • Media, politics and public relations
  • The styles and types of media. How they differ depending on the audience they are aiming for?
  • The phenomenon of Disney. Media or the new mythology?
  • Scientific journalism: shall science be popular?
  • Media for educational purpose
  • Radio media: why radio is still popular?
  • Hidden messages in the media made for entertainment
  • Media images of the representatives of different countries

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HIV Reporting: A Quantitative Study of the Gleaner Company (Media Limited)

  • Alana Smith + −

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It is easy, too easy at times, for us to forget that behind the endeavours of prominent scholars are persons who are directly impacted by their research. The work of Professor Paula Morgan spotlights her commitment to making a tangible difference in improving one’s quality of life, especially for persons living in the Caribbean. Best known for her work in education with a focus on Caribbean literature and culture, it is undoubtedly Professor Morgan’s activism for women and persons with disabilities that stood out to this researcher because her pursuit of knowledge was consistently focused on the plight of vulnerable groups within the region. Like the ethos of this paper, Professor Morgan’s research embodies the fact that academia – in the hands of committed and passionate scholars – yields quantifiably long-lasting results for persons who are at risk of social exclusion.

ALANA SMITH is a researcher and Assistant Lecturer in Communication Studies at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus. With over 10 years of experience in communications - from broadcast journalism to corporate communications - Alana’s research interest lies in media studies with a specific emphasis on health communications. Her Caribbean-centric work considers the cultural and organisational nuances that influence linguistic choices by journalists. Alana’s work lobbies for policymakers to include journalists in health-based campaigns as social and behavioural change agents. She is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in human communications. 

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Title: knowledge unlearning for llms: tasks, methods, and challenges.

Abstract: In recent years, large language models (LLMs) have spurred a new research paradigm in natural language processing. Despite their excellent capability in knowledge-based question answering and reasoning, their potential to retain faulty or even harmful knowledge poses risks of malicious application. The challenge of mitigating this issue and transforming these models into purer assistants is crucial for their widespread applicability. Unfortunately, Retraining LLMs repeatedly to eliminate undesirable knowledge is impractical due to their immense parameters. Knowledge unlearning, derived from analogous studies on machine unlearning, presents a promising avenue to address this concern and is notably advantageous in the context of LLMs. It allows for the removal of harmful knowledge in an efficient manner, without affecting unrelated knowledge in the model. To this end, we provide a survey of knowledge unlearning in the era of LLMs. Firstly, we formally define the knowledge unlearning problem and distinguish it from related works. Subsequently, we categorize existing knowledge unlearning methods into three classes: those based on parameter optimization, parameter merging, and in-context learning, and introduce details of these unlearning methods. We further present evaluation datasets used in existing methods, and finally conclude this survey by presenting the ongoing challenges and future directions.

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Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies

Vol. 10 no. 2 (2023): partnership and innovation.

Published: 2023-12-21

Artwork is a square piece using paper, marker, natural fibers, and dried flowers. The image is a nature scene with a dark forest in the upper left, and hills, sky, and a river. A large, flying crow with its mouth open is prominent in the center, and carries a large anatomically-correct human heart with its feet. The crow, known to hold death ceremonies or funerals for its kin, is protecting and making space for the heart, symbolizing the vulnerability and preciousness of our lives that become apparent when  we  lose those beloved  to us. The river represents the tears that cleanse and refresh not only the joy and gratitude for loving and having been loved, but also the heartache of loss. Night and day, constellations and clouds, the Earth,and that which grows from it, represent change, the one thing we can rely on.

Art Feature:

Grief , 2021 Mixed media, paper, marker, natural fibers, and dried flowers. By Sara K. Bauer

View Artist's Statement View Full-Size Cover Art

Guest Editor: Oriana Beaudet, DNP, RN, FAAN

From the Guest Editor

Planting Seeds of Innovation: A Quality Improvement Project to Advance Nursing Innovation

Oriana Beaudet

First 1,000 Days Suncoast: Regional Initiative Transforming Care for Babies and Their Families

Chelsea Arnold, Kelly Romanoff, Mary O'Connor, Pam Beitlich

The Power of Nursing Innovation in Planetary Health

Kasey Bellegarde, Linda Koh, Carol Ziegler, Milagros Elia, Rizalina Bonuel, Amy Rose Taylor

Unlocking the Future of Nursing Education and Continuing Professional Development By Embracing Generative Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Language Models

Jennifer Shepherd

Infusing Mental Health in Design Education: A Case Study on Transdisciplinarity and Empathy as Mediums for Innovation

Tasoulla Hadjiyanni, Kira Davies, Quynh Akers

Patient Care Device Technology Transformation: Nurses Seek Partners to Achieve Patient Care Excellence

Abby Winterberg, Kelly Landsman, Nancy Downing, Lindsey Roddy, Rosemary Kennedy

Community Voices

Changing the World One Story at a Time

Cherri Jacobs Pruitt

Artist's Statement: Grief

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