People who share news on social media sites may connect more with that information - and stay connected longer - than people who casually read the news, researchers found.
"There seems to be growing concern that young people may be becoming more disengaged, particularly from mainstream media sources, and be more out-of-touch," said S Shyam Sundar, Distinguished Professor of Communications and co-director of the Media Effects Research Laboratory, Penn State.
"However, sharing and discussing news content on social media sites like Facebook can actually drive greater involvement with news and information," Sundar said.
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A total of 265 active Facebook users with a median of 400 friends each took part in the study. The researchers studied whether the way Facebook users shared links to news stories with their friends affected how involved they remained with the stories.
Feedback from friends appears to drive the connection, said Anne Oeldorf-Hirsch, assistant professor of communication, University of Connecticut, who worked with Sundar on the study.
"One of the main findings of this study is that engagement in news stories through social media requires discussion with friends on the site," said Oeldorf-Hirsch. How users perceive the feedback is important, according to the researchers.
"Simply receiving likes or superficial comments from a lot of friends is not sufficient," Sundar said. "Feedback ought to be perceived as relevant, thoughtful and engaging, in order to make Facebook users feel like they are involved in the story and influential in their network," he said.
While reporters and editors once served as gatekeepers for information, social media sites are increasingly allowing users to serve as their own gatekeepers, researchers said. The rewards of serving as an opinion leader may reinforce future sharing.
"By sharing news of interest to their friends and engaging them, the users reap the benefits of greater interest and involvement in that content themselves,"
said Oeldorf-Hirsch. "Those sharing stories also gain a sense of influence, which could drive them to become opinion leaders in their networks," said Oeldorf-Hirsch.
Users who asked questions, rather than ones who just posted the material, or made a statement about the content, significantly increased involvement with the information, according to the researchers.
The study also found that people who shared a story tended to stay more involved with the material for a longer period compared to participants who just read the story. The participants who shared stories felt significantly more involved with the content a week later, he added.