Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Digital Inclusion Through Algorithmic Knowledge: Curated Flows of Civic and Political Information on Instagram

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Abstract:  Social media platforms are a critical source of civic and political information. We examine the use of Instagram to acquire news as well as civic and political information using nationally representative survey data gathered in 2019 in the US, the UK, France, and Canada (n = 2,440). We investigate active curation practices (following news organizations, political candidates or parties, and nonprofit organizations or charities) and passive curation practices (liking friends’ political posts and those from parties or politicians and nonprofits or charities). Young adults (18 to 24 years) are far more likely to curate their Instagram feed than older adults in all four countries. We consider two possible explanations for this behavior: political interest and an understanding of how algorithms work. Young adults have more (self-assessed) knowledge of algorithms in all four countries. Algorithmic knowledge relates to curation practices, but there are some cross-national differences. Algorithmic knowledge is theoretically relevant for passive curation practices and the UK sample provides support for the stronger role of algorithmic knowledge in passive than active curation. In all four countries, political interest positively relates to active and passive curation practices. These findings challenge depictions of young adults as news avoiders; instead, they demonstrate that algorithmic knowledge can help curate the flow of information from news organizations as well as civic and political groups on Instagram. While algorithmic knowledge enables youth’s digital inclusion, for older adults, the lack of knowledge may contribute to digital exclusion as they do not know how to curate their information flows.

Keywords:  algorithmic knowledge; civic information; digital inclusion; Instagram; news; political interest

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.17645/mac.8102


© Shelley Boulianne, Christian P. Hoffmann. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.