Ask the average 2019 voter where the problems with political news lie, and you might hear a few familiar claims: fake news. Russian interference. The biased BBC.
But take a look at their smartphones, and you might discover a different, more chaotic world – in which news is being shaped less by publishers or foreign agents but by social media algorithms and friendship groups.
Now, in a first-of-its-kind election monitoring project conducted by the Guardian and research agency Revealing Reality, a group of voters have allowed their phone use to be recorded for three days – and the results from each individual’s phone show how the traditional media ecosystem is changing and disintegrating.
Charlie in Sunderland consumed much of his election news through memes on lad humour Facebook pages, spending more time looking at posts of Boris Johnson using the word “boobies” than reading traditional news stories. Fiona in Bolton checked out claims about Jeremy Corbyn’s wealth by going to a website called Jihadi Watch before sharing the far-right material in a deliberate bid to anger her leftwing friends. And Shazi in Sheffield followed the BBC leaders’ interviews purely by watching videos of party supporters chanting the Labour leader’s name outside the venue.
The six volunteers who took part in the project should be seen as a snapshot rather than a statistically representative sample of the population. But the behaviour chimes with previous research to illustrate a pattern of behaviour across the political spectrum – a result with huge implications for the role of responsible journalism and reliable sources. Read more