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I like what I see: studying the influence of popularity cues on attention allocation and news selection

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Today, social network sites (SNS) are a major platform for news consumption. However, their interface differs dramatically from those of news sites. On SNS, news posts lack the traditional news cues that guide audience selection of stories. Instead, they are accompanied by social cues, traces of engagement by other users with news items. This process is known as the socialization of news. This study sought to test the effect of the socialization of news on users’ attention and selection processes. By means of an experimental design employing eye-tracking measurements (N = 86), the study (1) asked whether the existence of various social cues of endorsement (user comments, ‘Likes’, and ‘Reactions’) influenced attention and selection; (2) explored how users divided their attention between news information and social cues, and whether social endorsement affected the attention given by users to news cues; (3) identified differences among users regarding their sensitivity to social endorsement (relying on two psychological traits: self-monitoring and need for cognition). The findings demonstrate that social cues have some effect on attention and selection processes; however, users varied significantly in their response to social endorsement, both in terms of attention and selection. Together, the findings suggest that the socialization of news has changed news consumption processes, and that the consumption of news on SNS might require the development of a new theoretical approach to the consumption of news.
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Keywords: Facebook; attention; eye tracking; news consumption; social cues

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Communication, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel

Publication date: January 28, 2019

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