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Understanding Audience Behavior with Digital Traces: Past, Present, and Future

In recent decades, significant transformations in audience characteristics and the media environment have necessitated a reassessment of audience analysis. Communication scholars have increasingly recognized the value of utilizing digital traces as valuable resources to understand audience behaviors. This research presents a comprehensive review of 243 audience analyses that incorporate digital traces, covering the period from 2001 to 2022, as published in 19 prominent communication journals. Our analysis reveals a remarkable expansion in the variety of data sources and a diversification of research contexts within the field. The integration of digital traces has empowered researchers to enhance behavioral concepts and attain deeper insights into audience dynamics. By harnessing the temporal, semantic, and structural information embedded within digital traces, novel audience metrics have been developed. This review identifies noteworthy theoretical and methodological implications for future audience research, emphasizing the necessity to embrace the evolving landscape of digital media. Furthermore, it suggests avenues for further exploration and the refinement of existing methodologies. By capitalizing on the potential of digital traces, communication scholars can continue to advance our understanding of audience characteristics and behaviors in the ever-changing media ecosystem.

Factbait: Emotionality of Fact-Checking Tweets and Users’ Engagement during the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Given the importance of fact-checking in reducing the spread of false information on social media, prior research has examined effective fact-checking strategies. The current study addresses this question by conducting a computational analysis of actual fact-checking tweets of three representative fact-checking organizations in the United States (Factcheck.org, PolitiFact, Snopes), replies, and retweets (N = 166,526) on Twitter made from September 29 to November 3, 2020, when the 2020 U.S. presidential election and the COVID-19 crisis co-occurred. The results show that fact-checking tweets with a greater degree of anxiety and anger generally receive more replies, but those exhibiting sadness are retweeted less. Additionally, fact-checking tweets with heightened levels of anxiety, anger, sadness, or negativity, in general, tend to elicit replies featuring a degree of anxiety, anger, sadness, or negativity, respectively. Our findings suggest that emotions can be utilized as drivers of engagement in fact-checking tweets, meaning that the emotional impetus can potentially serve as an important strategy to make fact-checking efforts more impactful in uncertain situations. However, fact-checking organizations should be aware that emotional appeals in fact-checking posts catalyze correspondingly emotional responses from their audiences, which reflects the emotional contagion process.