News, Memes, and Civic Identity



“Measuring engagement with news is comprised of more than just a set of quantitative metrics. It is a process of civic identity construction that unfolds on social networks when someone decides to share a piece of content. This is a core part of contemporary civic learning and political participation. “In his book Post-Broadcast Democracy, Markus Prior uses the term “by-product learning” to refer to learning “politically relevant facts as a by-product of nonpolitical routines” (2007, 4). Prior derives this concept from his study of the “efficiency” of citizens’ media environments, finding that less efficient systems like broadcast television actually produce high levels of by-product learning because exposure to political information was high when so few channels and programming options existed. “Ironically, in the age of “information overload” with a proliferation of free news online and readers spreading their attention across many sources, we have adopted new centralizing mediators in the form of social networks. One important example is Facebook, which services a broad array of information, entertainment, and social needs. Historically, one’s choice of news source was an expression of identity through ideological affiliation, or professional membership. Now, rather than subscription and conspicuous print editions, we signal these things through the headlines we choose to share with our Facebook friends or Twitter followers.”