The person who shares a news story on social media is more important than the story's actual source in determining whether readers believe it, a study by the Media Insight Project found recently. The study, which was conducted in collaboration with the Associated Press, comes as "news organizations are keenly interested in research that tracks consumer habits in a rapidly changing media world," per the AP.
In addition to uncovering proof that social media users were more likely to share a post from someone other than the post's original author (the study found this by posting on a Facebook-like social network and testing the responses of 1,489 adults), the study found that participants "said they were more likely to pass the article along to their own friends when it had been shared by a trusted source. By contrast, the original source — AP or the fictional site — made little difference to readers' perceptions about the article," per the AP.
"If there's somebody I like and agree with, they can have a big influence not only in what I look at but in whether I believe it or not: 'I trust them and I convey that trust to the news that they share,'" said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute.
The project's findings indicate that news organizations must pay closer attention to how its articles spread through social media, Rosenstiel said. They might also want to consider something that may seem counterintuitive, like sharing news by competitors in the hope that they will reciprocate, he said. Readers "are not just your audience anymore," he said. "They're your ambassadors."