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Reliance on social media for news could impact intercultural relations in Australia

Reliance on social media for news could impact intercultural relations in Australia

Multiculturalism in Australia is alive and well but needs recalibration if the country is to live up to its reputation as a multicultural success story, a Deakin University report has found.

The study by Faculty of Arts and Education researchers, Dr Usha M. Rodrigues and Alfred Deakin Professor Yin Paradies, sheds light on Australians’ preferred media sources of news and information and its implications for intercultural relations.

The results highlight a disconnect between the audience appetite for news, the sources they turn to and their trust in the news outlets they use, particularly with people who are born overseas but now reside in Australia.

“It is well documented that the news media – traditional and social – have a significant impact on intercultural relations in societies such as ours in Australia,” Professor Paradies said.

“With 49 per cent of the Australian population born overseas, or having a parent born overseas, it is imperative that the mainstream media reflect the multicultural makeup of this country.

“Yet our study showed that Australians born overseas are twice as likely to seek international news from social media sites, despite not being entirely convinced of the reliability of the information provided.”

The study consisted of two phases with a total of 437 participants. The first phase involved a survey of 216 people aged 18 years and over, with 68.5 per cent of participants born in Australia. The second survey targeted groups and individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds and was completed by 221 participants of which 73 per cent were born overseas.

Similar to other recent news audience studies, this study found that Australians are overwhelmingly interested in news with 86 per cent consuming news at least once a day.

In relation to the type of news participants were most interested in, the results showed local, national and international news were the most popular, with consumers interested in political news to a lesser extent.

The researchers also found a significant difference between respondents’ preference for news, their sources and their trust in various sources of news.

Overall, respondents in the second survey were more active online when consuming news and as a result had more dispersed or distributed sources of news than respondents in the first survey that included more participants born in Australia.

Respondents in the second survey, with 73 per cent born overseas, relied relatively less on television and relatively more on social media to get their news.

Similarly, respondents in the second survey visited an online news site more often; searched through a news aggregator more often; searched for a specific news topic via a search engine such as Google more often; and were referred by a social media contact to a news story more often.

When it came to overall trust in media sources, television came out on top with 36 per cent of participants with social media only trusted by seven per cent of participants. Some 19 per cent of participants did not trust any of the media sources included in the survey.

Dr Rodrigues said the study highlighted implications for the increasingly distributed sources of news for Australians, more so for those born overseas.

“News and information available on social media and other non-news sites may not be filtered by experienced and skilled journalists, which could lead to the spread and consumption of inaccurate and unverified information to mass audiences,” Dr Rodrigues said.

“The rise of fake news in the recent US presidential elections demonstrated the ease and impact of sharing inaccurate but authentic looking fake news stories online.”

Dr Rodrigues said past research had shown that the skewed coverage of international news created stereotypes and anxiety amongst communities.

“The unsatisfactory coverage of international news and multicultural issues that are of interest to a culturally diverse Australian population, results in some news consumers seeking news on non-traditional media sources on the internet,” she said.

“By catering to the needs of the various audiences in Australia and providing more depth to their coverage of international news, events and issues, the mainstream media may be able to arrest its irrelevance as a source of news and not to fritter away further ground to new media sources such as social networking sites.”

The study is part of a research project supported by a Victorian Government Social Cohesion Research Grant, Special Broadcasting Service and the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria.

The results will be released at the Cultural Diversity and News in Australia Symposium being held in Melbourne on Wednesday, 13 September at Deakin Downtown, Level 12, Tower 2, 727 Collins Street, Melbourne.


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