The special taste of snack news: An application of niche theory to understand the appeal of Facebook as a news source

Svenja Schäfer, Michael Sülflow, Philipp Müller


Facebook has become an important source for political information since news posts are an essential part of the content that is shared and spread within the SNS. The present study applies the uses and gratifications approach and the theory of the niche to understand the specific appeal of Facebook as a source for political news. We compare the gratifications obtained from political Facebook news with those of political television news and newspapers. For this purpose, we conducted an online survey of Internet users (N=422). Results show that users hardly ever visit Facebook with the primary intention to find political information. Interestingly however, they estimate that about a quarter of the posts they receive contains political information. The most important dimension of gratifications obtained from political Facebook news content are “entertainment” and “killing time”. In these dimensions, Facebook is superior to political television news and newspapers. For “balanced information”, “surveillance”, and “social utility”, the two traditional sources outperform Facebook. Analyses of niche breadth and overlap demonstrate that Facebook has a comparatively narrow niche and a low overlap with the two traditional news outlets. This means that political news content on Facebook serves a very specific function which is complementary to other sources. Users mainly turn to political news posts on Facebook for reasons related to distraction. However, their value can be seen in the fact that users might this way get in touch with political news that they otherwise might not have been exposed to at all.

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