Abstract: In recent years, much research has—more or less candidly—asked whether the use of social media platforms is “making us dumber” (Cacciatore et al., 2018). Likewise, discussions around constructs such as the news-finds-me perception or illusions of knowledge point to concerns about social media users being inadequately informed. This assessment of inadequacy, explicitly or implicitly, builds on the ideal of the informed citizen with a broad interest in current affairs who knows about all important societal issues. However, research has largely ignored what citizens themselves understand as “being informed.” Accordingly, this research project asks what people actually want to be informed about, which user characteristics predict different self-concepts of informedness, and how both of these aspects relate to feelings of being informed in the context of social media platforms. Based on a preregistered, national representative survey of German social media users (n = 1,091), we find that keeping up with news and political information is generally less important for people than staying informed about their personal interests and their social environment. However, feelings of being informed through social media are most strongly predicted by how suitable a given social media platform is perceived to be for keeping up-to-date with current affairs. This suggests that while information needs are diverse and related to different sociodemographic and personal characteristics, most people indeed seem to associate “being informed” with political information and news.
Keywords: feelings of being informed; information needs; self-concepts of informedness; social media