The research methods are the ones which are used to design the methods used for the studies. Over the year, researchers and scholars in the field of media and communication have devised several research methods such as content analysis, experimental designs, cross-sectional surveys etc. The study design which is used in the research article, The New Personal Influence: How Our Facebook Friends Influence the News We Read, is cross-sectional survey study design. Even though the design process of the study is complicated because the participants were given different survey such as news feed with comments, a news feed with no comments and a comparison of treated articles and not treated articles and this process is making the research design complicated. But in my opinion, it is a cross-sectional survey because participants were given different options asking for their preferences and the instruments are treated cases and controls. A cross-sectional study collects data and makes inferences at one point in time about the targeted population (Hall and Lavrakas, 2008). Cross-sectional studies tend to provide the snapshot of the issue in concern. The study is relatively inexpensive and required less time to conduct (Levin, 2006). This research method has the ability to study and observe multiple outcomes and exposures at the same time. Survey research is a quantitative methodology which involves a standardized questionnaire with mainly close-ended questions. The cross-sectional study design can cover at three level before, after and over the period of time for any subject or interest understudy. The main research tool in the study is primarily a structured questionnaire which is properly developed based on the variables in the study. An analytical cross-sectional survey can inform the researcher about the relationship between the different form of media and content consumption (Lule, 2013).
Surveys studies are focused on specific populations such as magazine subscribers, social media users, and television viewers and the selection of the participants and sampling methods for the participants is carried out based on the research question. Using the surveys people can voice out their preferences such as which articles or news they participants will prefer (Bornman, 2009). For example, the survey research is used to understand how a large number of people who have participated in the study feel and respond to the variable which the study has selected. The selected variables are then tested using different instruments such as questionnaires from the selected participants and their responses are analyzed using frequencies and other statistical tests and graphical representations. The concept of the survey is that survey questionnaire are usually personal because respondents provide their personal opinion and information about their views and cannot provide responses on the behalf of other people.
Questionnaire surveys usually provide the answers to what questions and is unable to provide answers to why questions. For example, for the article “The New Personal Influence: How Our Facebook Friends Influence the News We Read,” the respondent choose their preference of the news feeds but was not able to answer why the particular news or content was preferred. In media and communication, surveys are also not able to explore the content of any medical communication or content such as local content or television content (Bornman, 2009). The survey questionnaire is of several types when it comes to data collection such as self-administered surveys, interview-based surveys, and surveys carried out via phone calls or posts. Self-administered surveys in which the questionnaire are handed to the respondent and they fill the form on their own. For example, in the article, the survey method was a self-administered survey where participants are handed over the question and they answered accordingly.
There are several advantages for using cross-sectional survey designs such as low cost, large accessibility, time efficient, flexibility, timely data collections, the time required for research is less as compared to the other methods of the study. But there are several disadvantages to the survey research methods such as less response rate, not able to form a relationship between the independent and dependent variable and instead will find the association between the variables. The response rate issue can be catered by following up with the participants, designing short questionnaire and interviewing the participants. But the survey can be used as a baseline for the longitudinal studies and to establish a causal relationship between the variables with experimental studies.
Summary of the article:
The use of social media has increased over the years and political information in the environment of social media shapes the dynamics of how individuals receive, process and consume the information that is being provided on social media. Because the information provided on social media is random so the entertainment-news seekers tend to stumble upon the political news while they are searching for entertainment news. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter has a strong influence on the users and the influences come from friends and endorsements based on the likes of the user. Social media is being used for the leisure time and people tend to avoid any political news which may appear on social media but if the news is discussed by friends then the user is more likely to read the political news. The main purpose of this study, ‘The New Personal Influence: How Our Facebook Friends Influence the News We Read,” (Anspach, 2017) is to determine whether the news selection rate is influenced by social media audiences and whether personal influence can determine the selectivity of partisan. To fulfill the purpose of the study, two waves of the experiments were carried out and in the first experiment subject from two different universities, one ethnically diverse with liberal mindset subjects and other with conservative white subjects were enrolled. In the first wave, the political fundamentals of the participants were measured along with snowballing a sample of friends and family members.
The snowball sampling was used to generate mock Facebook newsfeed. After the administration of the mock news feed from the snowball sampled participants, the survey was conducted again for the participants and the response rate was 86% approximately. The survey featured three mock news feed presented to the participants in the random order and subjects were asked to select the preferred news feed from each of the three news feed. The news feed was developed by news and activities by both fictional and real friends of the participants to understand whether the source of information matter in the selection of information. The mean age of the participants was 18.17 years and 4.2 was the mean of political knowledge among the participants. The result of the study shows that discussions regarding news which appears on the newsfeed of the users have an influence on the preference of the content users will read. The study concluded that social media users will select the political news if there family and friends have posted it regardless of the political ideology. But if the activity is carried out by the people who are fictional then it did not impact preference or selection of any particular news feed. The nature of the comment on the news has also influenced the selection and consumption of the particular news on the news feed especially when the comments are counter-attitudinal. The methodology of the article and findings are robustly indicating the originality and reliability of the article. The research has been carried out comprehensive and adds to the existing knowledge on the influence of social media and friends on the selection of content as well as other factors which influence partisan content selection.
Strengths and Weakness:
The methodology section of the paper has been explained in great details which provide the comprehensive information about the process and the way participants were selected, news feed were devised, and data were collected as well as explaining the four mock news feeds which were created. The mock news feeds are devised following a proper protocol for the study purpose and are explained in a proper way regarding how these feeds are provided to the participants. The survey research method of the study has proven to be inexpensive and time efficient while collecting the data which is a characteristic of the survey research (Bornman, 2009). The study also was able to infer some association between the selection of news and influence of other factors. Also, the survey research usually occurs in a realistic setting (Wimmer and Dominick, 2013) and the present study was carried out in a realistic setting despite the creation of mock news feeds.
The methodology might have been robust in terms of execution and findings but the paper is not comprehensively devised as the lack of headings or sections make it difficult to comprehend the information. For example, since the first line, it is said the experiments are being carried out giving the impression of experimental study but later on it was observed that study is survey based. Also, the information on sampling strategies and how each participant was selected as well as the number of the participants from each pool was not mentioned which makes the whole research method weak. The main focus of the methodology section was mainly on the creating of the news feed and another aspect of the news feed. However, after the concluding remarks, towards the end of the paper in the notes section, there are some features of sampling, a number of participants and how participants were categorized in the pro-attitudinal or counter-attitudinal were mentioned.
The methodology section also lacks information on the inclusion and exclusion criteria of the participants which are important in any research study design and is the gold standard for any quantitative research (Coughlan et al., 2007). Ethical committee and review boards have to permit for any research which will be carried out (Coughlan et al., 2007) and this survey or experimental as mentioned in the article does not have any section on ethical considerations. Also, the article lacks information on the ethical protocol of the study which was considered for the selection and enrollment of the participants. If the information would have been organized, it would have made the research method comprehensive. The paper also does not have any section on the limitation or strength of the study which given the reader an idea about the proposed limitation which might have hampered the research or might have limited the results of the study.
Alternative methodological approach:
An alternative methodological approach for the similar research question would be analyzing the reasons of influence. The qualitative research design for this study would be suitable as it will provide the reason of why friend and family member influence the selection of news feed but the fictional people or the unknown do not impact the decisions. The phenomenological research method will enahnce the understanding of the topic and interest of the present study. The alternative research method of phenomenonlogy would adds to the existing knowledge of the topic and the reasons and perceptions behind the factors influencing the selection of news feeds of the particiaptns. Because this process will involve indepeth interviews and focus group discussions among participants. Another alternative research method for the same research is cases control where exploring the interest of the participants and having different treated article with non involement of the family memebers or the friends for the control group and then determine the selectivity preferences. Social media has been one of the major source of information so political information and news feed are consumed selectively and the future studies can cater the limitation and weakness of the present to ehance the understanding of the association as well as for the roboust research methods.
Anspach NM (2017) The new personal influence: How our Facebook friends influence the news we read. Political Communication 34(4): 590–606.
Bornman E (2009) Questionnaire surveys in media research. Juta.
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Hall J and Lavrakas P (2008) Cross-sectional survey design. Encyclopedia of survey research methods: 173–174.
Levin KA (2006) Study design III: Cross-sectional studies. Evidence-based dentistry 7(1): 24–25.
Lule J (2013) Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication. Flat World Knowledge. Available at: https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=tNrbnQEACAAJ.
Wimmer RD and Dominick JR (2013) Mass Media Research. Cengage Learning. Available at: https://books.google.com.pk/books?id=FTukyzrOED0C.