VOLUME 22 #3

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All the news that fits your mobile device

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RESEARCH | As tablets and other mobile devices become an increasingly common part of everyday life, researchers in political communication are focusing more of their attention on how people use that technology to access news and other information.

The limitation of those studies, according to UD’s Lindsay Hoffman, is that they have relied on the users’ own reports about their behavior.

“These devices have become such an entrenched part of our lives that who can really accurately gauge their own media use?” says Hoffman, associate professor of communication. She set out to conduct a more objective analysis of mobile device use, providing 20 participants with state-of-the-art tablets for four months during the 2012 presidential campaign season.

Each tablet, with its user’s knowledge, tracked every website visited and the time spent on each. Researchers then categorized each site by type and political leaning, from conservative to liberal, and the results were coded for computer analysis. UD computer scientist Hui Fang conducted the data mining.

Among the findings: Users spent more time with online aggregators (such as Google), recreational sites (playing games, for example) and social networking sites than with news or political sites; they tended to overestimate the time they spent with online news; and they showed what Hoffman calls “selective exposure,” meaning that they were much more likely to visit sites that shared their liberal or conservative point of view rather than seeking out opposing ideologies.

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