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Influence of New Media on Public Opinion Formation & Management

(Last Updated On: 30th December 2022)

ABSTRACT: The research examines the influence of new media on public opinion formation and management among Youths in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria. The study was anchored on the Social Networking Theory, Media Determinism Theory and Spiral of Silence Theory. Survey research method was used coupled with questionnaire as a data collection instrument that was administered to 428 while 401 copies of questionnaires were returned and analysed using descriptive statistics (frequency and percentage method).  Finding show that social media especially Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp e.t.c the most favourite social media and often used at night an evening. Majority of the respondents admitted that they use social networking sites to share and form opinions while political and governance matters often attracted different opinions and perceptions. Follow closely is social and educational matters. Negative opinions, views and perceptions usually about politics are formed and share on social media among majority of the respondents. It is obvious that speed, cost effectiveness, interactivity, easy to use and freedom of expression were some of the distinctive power of social media for public opinion formation and sharing. Electricity and access to the internet were never major challenge in forming and sharing opinions online. The study recommended that social media users should always maintain objective when forming and sharing personal opinion on public matters while government should continue to promote freedom of expression and information in order to enable people free opinion.


Keywords: Public Opinion


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page                                                                                                                    i

Certification                                                                                                                ii

Dedication                                                                                                                   iii

Acknowledgement                                                                                                      iv

Table of Contents                                                                                                       vi

Abstract                                                                                                                       vii

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

1.1        Background to the Study________________________________________1

1.2       Statement of the Problem _______________________________________3

1.3       Objectives of the Study_________________________________________4

1.4       Research Questions____________________________________________4

1.5       Significance of the Study________________________________________5

1.6       Scope of the Study____________________________________________6

1.7       Operational Definition of Terms _________________________________6

            References

CHAPTER TWO: LITERATURE REVIEW

2.0       Introduction_________________________________________________8

2.1       Conceptual Review___________________________________________20

2.2       Empirical Studies____________________________________________25          

2.3       Theoretical Framework_______________________________________25

            References

CHAPTER THREE: RESEARCH METHODOLOGY

3.0       Introduction________________________________________________33

3.1       Research Design____________________________________________33

3.2       Research Method___________________________________________33

3.3       Study Population_____________________________________________34

3.4       Sample Size ________________________________________________34

3.5       Sampling Technique _________________________________________34

3.6       Instrument for Data Collection__________________________________35

3.7       Validity and Reliability of Research Instrument­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________________35

3.8       Data Collection Process________________________________________36

3.9       Method of Data Analysis_______________________________________36

3.10     Ethical Consideration__________________________________________37

            References

CHAPTER FOUR: DATA ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION OF FINDINGS

            Introduction _________________________________________________39

4.1       Data Analysis ________________________________________________39

4.2       Discussion of Findings_________________________________________48

CHAPTER FIVE: SUMMARY, CONCLUSION, RECOMMENDATIONS AND LIMITATIONS

            Introduction________________________________________________50

5.1       Summary__________________________________________________50

5.2.      Conclusions ________________________________________________51

5.3       Recommendations ___________________________________________52

            References

            Appendix


CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1         Background to the Study

            New media refers to forms of media that are based on digital or electronic technologies, as opposed to traditional forms of media such as print, radio, and television. New media includes a wide range of platforms, technologies, and formats, including social media, websites, mobile apps, online video and audio, virtual reality, and interactive games (Olayinka, 2019).

            New media allows for greater interactivity and participation by users, as well as the ability to share and disseminate information and content more quickly and widely than traditional media. It has also led to the emergence of new forms of communication, such as blogs, podcasts, and live streaming, and has made it possible for individuals and organizations to create and distribute their own media content (Olayinka, 2019).

            New media has had a significant impact on society and culture, as it has changed the way that people access and consume information and entertainment, and has created new opportunities for individuals and organizations to reach and engage with audiences. It has also raised concerns about issues such as privacy, security, and the spread of misinformation (Olayinka, 2019).

            However, for the purpose of this study, focus will be based on social media have continued in their revolutionary path in various areas of human activities since its introduction in the late 1990s. Social networking sites are group of internet-based applications that are built on the ideological and technological foundations of web 2.0 which allow the interaction, creation and sharing of information (as a text, video, audio, pictures, animation or combination). Examples are limited Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp and Youtube (Olayinka, 2019).

            Awake Magazine (2002) cited in Kur (2004) posits that the dynamic nature of the 2lst century and more centuries to come rest on technological revolution. No wonder, Marshall McLuhan, in 1964 propounded the concept of “Global Village” regarding the entire globe as having the potentials of becoming a “global community” where business, culture and education, information and news about anything and anywhere in the world would be readily available for anyone’s consumption in any part of the world. Which means that the world is now compressed into a single electronic room where information and other activities are exchanged with just a click or mouse or touch a screen (Olayinka, 2019).

            Nigeria was ranked 7th in internet users growth worldwide in 2018 with 98,391,456 internet users, which is 49% of the country’s population. The number of Facebook users in Nigeria increased from 400, 000 in 2007 to over 17million by December 31, 2017 (Social Media Week, 2018). The country also boasts of a sizeable number of Twitter and YouTube users, running into millions, according to internet world stats, 2018, which puts the number of active Twitter users in Nigeria at 6 million as at 2013. The other social media sites account for another 6 million.

            This shows that internet and social networking sites are already a community, perhaps the biggest community ever created artificially by humans, which comes with its own culture and norms. Ultimately, it has led to the formation of the online community or virtual world, which serves a variety of purposes including opinion formation (Ohiagu and Okorie, 2014).

Therefore, the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Wechat and many more have made the public domain to grow while information that used to be in the expert domain is becoming publicly available and new mechanisms for public involvement are being explored.

            According to Adedeji (2015) in Suomen Toivo–Think Tank (2012), “social networking sites as new information network and information technology use a form of interactive communication skills, where users produce the content of information and interpersonal relationships are established and maintained in the process. A typical social media services could be content sharing, web communities, or an Internet forum.

            On the social  media,  the  users  are  not  passive  like in  the  case  of  television, radio,  and newspaper, rather  they  are  active in  the  formation  and  exchange  of  opinions (Adedeji, 2015).  Today, social networking sites are deeply involved in shaping public opinion, perceptions and an awareness of events as they unfold. Hitherto private information is readily in the public domain as citizens have become part of information gathering and dissemination (Robert and Godwin, 2012). 

            More recently, citizen journalism (also known as public journalism) has become the media equivalent of grassroots democracy. This is because, as each participatory democracy encourages its citizens to participate and contribute to the administration of the state, so citizen journalism allows for public engagement in the media practice.    

            A tremendous change in the Nigerian political process has been the rise of social media. How social media has influenced politics in Nigeria is prominently shown in the way that political parties were unable to change election results as they were coming out of the various polling stations. The use of platforms such as Facebook, Blackberry Messenger, WhatsApps, Twitter, Blog, MySpace, YouTube and Instagram have emerged as an important means of electioneering and the policing of election results (Audu, 2015).

            Akinfeleye (2015), in a political chart on Channels TV prior to the 2015 General Election in Nigeria, members of the mass media are no longer the only body setting agenda on social-political-economic matters in this era of social networking sites as citizens have become part of the agenda setters; who set it through their social networking sites timeline, group, blog and many other online.

            In contemporary times, people discuss government policies, programmes, activities and pass their judgement through social networking sites which has boosted participation in governance, opinion building, opinion moulding, opinion formation and opinion sharing. This kind of activities is tagged citizens’ journalism or civic journalism. For instance, the kidnapping of the over 200 Chibok school girls in 2014 was known within few days and went viral on social media with different opinions. Also, the release of 21 Chibok girls became an issue of debate among Nigerians on social media, blogs, and web pages within few seconds of the incidence with different headlines and pictures, which picked the issue from different angles.

            Also, from the 2015 to 2019 general elections in Nigeria, the degree of social networking usage has incredibly increased as many Nigerians have the platform of their own to share their opinion on public matters, apart from the opportunities to react freely to what other have posted. Similarly, when President Buhari was nominated again for the 2019 Presidential election under the APC, the news generated lots of opinions, criticism and comments from Nigerians and even from outside. The same social networking sites that were used for election could also be used for other activities such as checkmating government in the form of activism and political mobilization on issues of public interest. It against this background that the research examines the influence of new media on public opinion formation and management among youths in Akwa Ibom, with the view of ascertaining the extent to which social networking sites have changed the pattern of opinion formation in this 21st century.

1.2       Statement of the Problem

            The highly interactive nature of social networking sites has made them veritable public communication platforms. Political debates, health, culture, ethics and social interest matters are hot topics on the sites. Government policies and campaigns and the programmes of rights groups and activists are test run on social media to sample public reactions. Researchers have focssed interest on the applications of the social media in political campaigns, health campaigns and social movements. Such studies have always produced findings, without touching on the critical aspect of applications of social networking sites, which is that people’s opinions inform their uses of the networking sites. More importantly, applications of social networking sites by people also depend on opinions people gather while using the platforms. This crisscrossing of effects is an aspect of social network use that eludes literature on the social media generally.

          While governments need to make better use of the social networking platforms, including meaningful controls, NGOs and the mass media also need to learn the best ways to use the social networking platforms as complements and competitors in social agenda setting. This may not happen effectively without understudying the platforms to see where and how they aid, impede or mislead opinion formation. The critical roles of social networking platforms in social unrest, fake news, misinformation, and social deviance make it imperative to find new ways to deal with the effects occasioned by the interactivity, openness, supra liberty and ubiquity of the medium. There is as well the need to deal with the credibility crisis inherent in their use as media of public communication. This is especially so among the youth who are the most numerous and most passionate users of the platforms. The youth form a critical mass in the population of any social system. It is against this background that the research examines the influence of new media on public opinion formation and management among youths in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria with the view of ascertaining the extent to which the social networking site are used to mould opinion and mobilize people for socio-economic and political reasons.

1.3       Objectives of the Study

            The study aims to examine the uses of new media in developing, forming and sharing opinion among users in Akwa Ibom state. Specifically, the objectives of the study are to:

  1. examine the extent to which new media is used among Akwa Ibom youths in developing, forming and sharing opinions.
  2. identify the areas where issues about opinion formation and sharing attracted the attention and participation of new media users in Akwa Ibom state.

1.4     Research Questions

  1. To what extent is the new media used among Akwa Ibom youths in forming and sharing opinions?
  2. Which areas attracted the attention and participation of new media users in Akwa Ibom state. on issues about opinion formation and sharing?

1.5       Significance of the Study

            The media and corporate bodies, government, non-governmental organisations, ordinary citizens, social network providers and other researchers will find the work useful. The media can learn better ways to deal with the social media as competitors and complements in social agenda setting in the areas of opinion moulding and influencing. Thy can learn the trending opinion on the social media and seek to reinforce, correct or highlight it. They can also use it to draw attention to their programmes or to introduce further debates on their own social networking platforms.

            Government can learn the areas to attracting the interest of the youth concerning government programmes. This can aid policy adjustments, new policies or efforts to improve on or to correct wrong opinions. It can also be a source of learning the pulse of the youth to forestall social anger or social unrest. Non-governmental organisations can fine tune campaigns aimed at the youth based on the kinds of opinions shared by the youth on social networking platforms.

            Ordinary individuals can enhance their capacity in opinion formation and sharing by using the proceeds of the study. Healthy opinion formation, issue analysis before opinion formation and personal restraints in sharing unverified opinions are areas the youth can benefit from the study.

            The areas attracting opinion, the kinds of social networking sites used to form some kinds of opinions and the ways in which opinions are shared can be a source of information to service providers towards improving on the facilities afforded by their platforms. This is to encourage and enable more users to patronise the platforms.

This research which is relatively new to the field of mass communication, although scholars have written on the role of mass media on public opinion, yet only few have ever written on social media on opinion formation or public opinion. 

            Corporate bodies such as Nigerian Union of Journalists, Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, CDHR and other related organisations will through the research know how best to utilize social networking sites and other new media for public opinion, agenda setting and mobilisation of the youth. The study adds to the body of knowledge in mass communication and fills the gap in the area of public opinion formation, freedom of speech and expression, social media/online media law in Nigeria among others. Future researchers who may what to carry out research in this area or related aspect will find this material useful.

1.6       Scope of the Study

            The study which investigated the influence of new media on public opinion formation and management. The study focusses on the youth in Akwa Ibom State. The youth as defined in the study is used to mean male and female residents of Akwa Ibom within the ages of 18 and 45. The study leaves it open to the respondents to name the areas in which opinion formation often happens. There is also no limitation in the range of social networking sites since they are going to come from the respondents. In effect, the term new media/social media may become interchangeable at the level of fieldwork.

1.7       Operational Definition of Terms

To effectively do justice to this research project, there is need to explain some of the key variables:

Influence: This means the contributions of social media to the opinion formation among youth used in the study. This will imply eliciting how the youth have interacted with the platforms to create opinions ranging from simply using the platforms to say something to reacting to other opinions.

New Media: In this research, new media refers to forms of media that are based on digital or electronic technologies, as opposed to traditional forms of media such as print, radio, and television. New media includes a wide range of platforms, technologies, and formats, including social media, websites, mobile apps, online video and audio, virtual reality, and interactive games.

Public Opinion Formation: It entails the use of social networking sites formulate and express personal or group-based views on important issues of social significant.

Youths: These refer to both male and female in Akwa Ibom state of Nigeria usually between the age of 18 and 45 years who use given social networking sites.


“Influence of New Media on Public Opinion Formation & Management”


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