UK elections: A snapshot of online news behaviours

In the run up to the December 2019 general election we conducted a small, self-funded project in partnership with The Guardian, examining how people engage with election-related news on their smartphones.

The Guardian published two pieces:

Uncovered: reality of how smartphones turned election news into chaos

Secrets of their smartphones: see how voters follow the news in memes

We used screen record to observe how six people, selected on the basis of being medium-to-heavy news consumers, accessed and interacted with information received via online news websites, social media and algorithms about the upcoming UK vote.

We saw the effects of news ‘filter bubbles’ playing out, charted the news journeys of people who selectively sought out information to confirm a particular political viewpoint, and saw how, rather than an abundance of ‘fake news’, headlines instead often gave highly emotive slants to otherwise truthful pieces of information.

This builds on our past research into how news behaviours are changing as the media landscape evolves, with a particular focus on the disruptive effect of smartphones on how we interact with information.

We discuss our research in further detail, including the inspiration for the project, the insights gained, methods used and respondent profiles, in a series of blogs:

1.  Are smartphones fuelling the political divide in the UK?

2. The election window: How smartphones are shaping our view of the political debate

3. The new ethnography: How we can now ‘see’ largely private smartphone behaviours

4. Reflections on our news behaviours