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Title: Public opinion in the new media environment
Author: Zucca, Claudia
ISNI:       0000 0004 7969 5393
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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Information is one of the most critical factors that affects our lives as Internet users. However, do we really understand the effects of the information that we acquire and share every day through the Internet? Is it different from the effects of traditional mass media? This thesis looks at how information affects public opinion from the perspective of the Receive Accept Sample (RAS) model introduced by John Zaller, updating the model for the media environment we have today. Zaller's RAS model faces two main problems in the contemporary context. First, the RAS model was introduced in 1992 when the Internet was not yet a very popular medium of communication, and therefore does not make a distinction between the mass media and the Internet. This distinction is necessary since the implications of mass communication and the tailored communication offered by the Internet are profoundly different, and they differently condition the dynamics described in the RAS model. Second, the RAS model conceives information as constituted by messages but does not provide a rigorous definition of a message. If this was not a problem when mass media shared common patterns, it is a problem when analysing information encoded with a very different kind of media such as the Internet. In order to address these problems, this thesis defines a unit of analysis of information that permits us to measure the effects of information on public opinion under the framework of an updated RAS model, which I term a SUI-RAS (Single Unit of Information Receive-Accept-Sample) model that is divided into two versions: one that explains mass media effects and one that explains Internet effects. The unit of analysis of information received from the mass media is defined as text, and from the Internet as hypertext, in accordance with Semiotic traditions. These two concepts are considered as the single pieces of information that aggregate into information flows. By defining these units, it is possible to measure the quality and the quantity of information people acquire, and to precisely estimate how the information influences their opinions. The SUI-RAS model is tested in three empirical chapters. The first chapter tests the necessity of analysing mass media and the Internet as two different cases. The second empirical chapter employs an online experiment to test the effect of two units of information retrieved from the Internet on the formation of political opinion, supporting the claim that more persuasive units of information affect public opinion to a more significant extent. Finally, the third empirical chapter presents an observational study testing the Internet SUI-RAS in a case where a technological tool constrained the encoding of hypertexts.
Supervisor: Stevens, D. ; Katz Wisel, G. Sponsor: European Commission
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: information ; public opinion ; political communication ; online experiment ; internet studies