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REGION: Global

In “Effects of Traditional and Social Media on Political Trust,” Echeverría and Mani discuss the relationship between the public’s news media consumption and the public’s trust in elected officials and government institutions. The authors’ hypothesis is that public consumption of social media diminishes public trust in both elections and government legitimacy. They reason that the sharing of false and misleading information exacerbates a growing global trust deficit in democratic governments. They theorize that social media and traditional media both contribute to the decrease in public trust, but that social media decreases trust more than traditional media does. Their research examines levels of trust at three moments: before, during, and after the 2018 Mexican presidential election campaigns. Ultimately, the authors conclude that, in fact, both traditional and social media have a modest positive effect on public trust in government institutions, contrary to their hypothesis. The study finds that those who follow news sources show a greater commitment towards and knowledge of political events, as well as greater faith in their government institutions.

Despite media’s sensationalist attributes, its consumption is positively associated with political knowledge, trust, and mobilization. Citizens exposed to the news media have developed greater commitment, participation, and political trust than those who have not. The study shows that printed media and public television can increase public trust, but the increase is less significant when commercial television is consumed. The authors theorize that commercial television media provides audiences with subjective, sensational, aggressive, and anti-institutional news, which leads politicians to use coverage to generate sound bites for their campaigns as opposed to more detailed information. The lack of detailed information can negatively affect a citizen’s ability to judge where faults lie in the state’s institutions.

Despite the authors’ theory that social media decreases trust in politicians and governance institutions by spreading false information and hidden agendas, the study shows that social media has a greater positive effect on trust than television, printed media, and digital newspapers. The authors note that few studies have been conducted on the relationship between trust in government and social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, but those that have corroborate the theory that increased exposure to media leads to greater mobilization, citizen participation, and political trust. Unlike commercial video media, social media is a platform that politicians and institutions can use directly, without having to depend on another entity to report for them and mold public perception. The direct access to information that social media provides can improve public perception of governmental actors and counteract the negative effects of false information traveling through social media.[1]

The authors note some limitations to the findings of the study, however. The study’s findings are limited to a time surrounding an election campaign, by the coverage of a single election year in Mexico, and by the social media platform the authors elected to include. Election campaigns are moments when media influence tends to increase, alongside media coverage. Other studies have suggested that the changes in levels of trust might be short-term occurrences. The time periods surrounding elections tend to be richer in information and more polarized, as well as coincide with greater levels of public involvement, than other time periods.


[1]  A similar point is discussed in the JUSTRAC symposium white paper, “Transitioning to the Accusatorial Model: Addressing Challenges for Legal Education and Training in Latin America,” which resulted from a September 2018 JUSTRAC symposium. In that symposium, some participants noted that public information shared by government agencies through social media creates greater transparency when compared to information that travels through a news outlet that can inaccurately portray it.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

Effects of Traditional and Social Media on Political Trust

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