The Welsh Media V: The Welsh News Deficit

(Title Image: photoeverywhere.co.uk under Creative Commons Licence CC-BY-2.5)

Before looking at how news from Wales is covered in the UK media, it’s well worth casting a (sort of) critical gaze at how Wales is covered by our own media.

Coverage of Wales in the Welsh Media

 

(Pic: ITV Wales)

Coverage by broadcasters (Part VI, Part VII) is about as good as can be expected in a non-independent country of Wales’ size. As mentioned previously (Part III), BBC Wales Today and ITV Wales news bulletins are relatively popular and have a large reach – they’re the main way Welsh audiences receive news about Wales (in English). They also have to cover everything (news, politics, sport, current affairs, human interest….”and finally” stories) despite being given fewer broadcast hours and more awkward time slots when compared to UK network BBC and ITV news and S4C current affairs programmes.

BBC/S4C’s Newyddion 9 tends to feature on-off in the top 20 most-viewed programmes on S4C. Other current affairs programmes broadcast by S4C (Y Byd ar Bedwar, Pawb a’i Farn, Y Byd yn ei Le) seem to perform similarly. Though figures don’t include catch-up/on-demand ratings, amongst the Welsh-speaking population the reach is likely to be around 10% of households or so – not great, not terrible.

Attempts to create English language current affairs content have produced mixed results.

Sharp End deserves far more respect than it gets and is arguably the best Welsh current affairs programme overall because it properly balances everything, Adrian Masters lulls guests into a false sense of security and it doesn’t condescend the audience, but it’s shunted by ITV to beyond 10:30 pm – similarly, Wales Live on the BBC which from what I can tell has been well-received and is pretty accessible. The Hour – an attempt by BBC Wales to create an English-language version of Pawb a’i Farn crossed with a old Sunday morning discussion show – was scrapped after a short run, while the current affairs programme BBC Wales Investigates is broadcast intermittently, especially when compared to ITV’s Wales This Week.

The situation on Welsh radio (Part VI) isn’t too bad.

BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement, Eye on Wales and BBC Radio Cymru’s Taro’r Post and Manylu are all highly-regarded. The big cloud on the horizon is recently announced changes to the format of BBC Radio Wales’ Good Morning Wales, which has caused concern amongst politicians that Welsh news coverage on morning radio is going to be “dumbed-down” – whether it actually will or not remains to be seen.

The commercial Welsh radio stations do tend to provide a fair amount of UK news bulletins (provided by the likes of IRN), but Welsh news and political news is often lacking or non-existent. It’s often left to community radio stations.

Then there are the newspapers. I don’t need to remind you that Welsh print press is in a precarious situation (Part III) but for all its faults, when it comes to current affairs they do their jobs – and the quality of the coverage is much higher than you would otherwise think.

Coverage of politics and current affairs in The Western Mail is often very different and much more comprehensive than coverage you find on Wales Online (if you can find it at all) despite effectively being the same publication; that’s no doubt primarily down to the individual efforts of political and current affairs editors and reporters.

It’s incorrect and unfair to say Wales Online doesn’t do anything to cover Welsh current affairs – it’s how it’s presented that seems to be the problem. Wales Online – easily the most popular English-language news website produced in and for Wales after the BBC (Part VIII) – has a politics section which was recently made more prominent, but you’ll rarely see a Welsh political story (as opposed to a general current affairs story like a health scandal) prioritised on the main page. Politics is often a footnote to a bigger story.

Coverage of what happens day-to-day at the Senedd is limited across all mediums, though the BBC does at least have a live tracker of key moments and Wales Online often does very well when it comes to sourcing party political gossip or putting a story in a broader “Why should this matter to me?” people-centred context. That’s largely the same for the other mainstream press websites too. The South Wales Argus seems to have the right balance between print and online – and has a full-time political reporter – while the Daily Post and South Wales Evening Post come across as more parochial, the former having withdrawn its Senedd reporter in 2016.

Most of the more thoughtful, well-rounded and provocative work in terms of Welsh current affairs can be found in magazines and periodicals. The IWA’s Welsh Agenda is probably the closest thing Wales has to a version of The Spectator, New Statesman or Scotland’s Holyrood magazine. It’s only published twice a year though when it arguably needs to become a monthly or quarterly publication.

Aberystwyth-based Planet magazine, published quarterly, is one of the more prominent and long-standing publications in terms of Welsh current affairs (having run for almost 50 years) and has featured articles from scores of people familiar and not so familiar within Welsh civic society. The breadth of topics covered is impressive.

In terms of the Welsh language, from what I can tell the kind of work produced in the likes of Barn, Golwg and O’r Pedwar Gwynt is often to a high standard. So in terms of current affairs magazines, Wales is relatively blessed and it’s just a question as to how to properly support them and whether they need to take a leaf from major UK publications to change their editorial styles, publish more frequently, widen availability in shops or even take more aesthetic considerations into account like changing to more modern layouts.

Coverage of Wales in the UK Media

This table below – outlining circumstances when Wales has been covered in the UK media – comes from an IWA report published in 2009 (pdf). That was a long time ago, but I honestly doubt it’s changed much since then:

Even today, Wales tends to feature in the UK news for a select number of reasons:

  • Sport & Celebrity/Entertainment.
  • Crime, Social & Human Interest – This would include “poverty porn”, mental health (i.e. coverage of the 2007-09 Bridgend suicide cluster, which at times was grossly intrusive and is still a sore point), stories about individuals who’ve done something strange, vox pops with people on major current affairs issues (like Brexit) and “othering” (i.e. stories about Welsh language rules or alike).
  • Economy – It’s almost universally bad news that makes the UK headlines (factory closures etc.). You will rarely hear good news about the Welsh economy in the UK media (and on the flip side most positive business stories in the Welsh media are PR pieces from developers and alike). Some mainstream UK views on the Welsh economy remain rooted in the 1980s and earlier; how many places are still described as mining or slate towns?

When it comes to Welsh politics and current affairs, more often than not it’s not covered at all. The closest you’ll get outside of a UK general election is an MP selected to offer a quote – like Guto Bebb’s recent outbursts – or a Westminster parliamentary by-election.

When there is coverage of Welsh politics, it’s often limited to stories which either have some kind of direct or indirect impact on England (or framed in that way, like The Economist’s recent article on Welsh independence) or allow journalists and the ruling UK Government at the time to draw a negative comparison with England (i.e hospital waiting times) – though on very rare occasions it’s the other way around, such as Wales’ superior record on recycling. The Guardian is perhaps a notable exception in that they do occasionally cover Welsh current affairs for its own sake.

The IWA report I linked to points out that while there was plenty of coverage of Shambo the bull in the UK press during the spring and summer of 2007, there was hardly any coverage of that year’s Senedd elections – especially when compared to Scotland. That certainly hasn’t changed and, subjectively, the situation is as bad now as it’s ever been.

Nine UK newspaper titles publish Scottish-only editions; none do so in Wales. The last (and perhaps only) attempt – The Welsh Mirror – has long been criticised as a Labour-backed smear sheet and promptly disappeared after Labour took control of the Senedd in 2003.

The situation is just as bad at UK network broadcasters (Part VII), with ample air time given to matters in England that are largely irrelevant to Welsh and Scottish audiences – who (in Wales at least, in the absence of an equivalent of BBC Scotland) have to wait for our little bit tagged on at the end – except in the early evenings. I can’t remember the last time Welsh current affairs featured prominently on (UK) ITV News. (UK) BBC and Channel 4 News rarely cover Welsh current affairs and when they do so it’s because the Senedd or Welsh Government has done something to grab their attention – such as the Carl Sargeant inquests, the climate change emergency declaration and you can guarantee there’ll be plenty of coverage of any future smacking ban. There’s a very high bar set for Welsh politics, or even Welsh news generally except sport, to make it onto the UK news nonetheless (Part III).

First Minister’s Questions and key debates from the Senedd feature on BBC Parliament, but BBC Parliament’s viewing figures are so low that the audience is probably in the hundreds or low thousands.

UK radio is as bad as UK newspapers (Part VI); you will rarely (if ever) hear any serious news relating to Wales on UK network radio beyond the topics I listed earlier; don’t expect the Senedd to be discussed to any great extent on Radio 2 or The Today Programme.

The UK networks across radio and television often do a much better job of covering American politics (and in The Guardian, Australian politics) than they do covering a constituent part of the UK. The coverage of last year’s US mid-term elections when compared to that of the previous Senedd election was so disproportionate it was both laughable and maddening at the same time. Ask yourself whether US broadcasters cover UK and other European elections in as much detail as we cover theirs?

In most cases it’s as though devolution never happened.

The State of Local News in Wales

 

Many local newspapers no longer have a local office. (Pic: BBC Wales)

As outlined in Part III, the story of local newspapers in Wales has been one of near relentless decline and the medium-term viability of some titles must be under question by now. Among the titles which have already been lost are the Port Talbot Guardian and Caerphilly Campaign.

One other trend that’s affected nearly all local newspapers in Wales has been the closure of local offices and the centralisation of editorial roles; nearly all of Reach’s “local” titles are produced in Cardiff (and to a lesser extent, Swansea). This brings into question the connectivity between local journalists and their respective patches.

When you consider the regional nature of Wales’ “national” daily newspapers, then coverage of local news in the press (and online) perhaps isn’t as bad as it could otherwise be.

Since the introduction of the BBC’s Local Democracy Reporting Service, there’s been a noticeable increase in the number of stories about local authorities – something that had gradually been lost as the media conglomerates centralised their editorial work and local councils took it upon themselves to publish their own news; Carmarthenshire’s press office is legendary for all the wrong reasons. Ultimately though, should it be the BBC’s responsibility to do local newspapers’ jobs for them?

There’s still a danger that the local press is over-reliant on press releases (because they don’t have the resources to do more investigative work or campaigning journalism), sport (which is often covered in far more detail than the national press), human interest stories (i.e. charity fundraisers and local boy/girl done good) and what you might call the more stereotypical grievance stories (accompanied by a photo of someone looking glum with their arms crossed).

There’s been a noticeable decline in court reporting (apart from more serious crimes) and I’ve been told anecdotally that the “Look Who’s Been In Court” columns in the Glamorgan Gazette were popular and often the main reason someone would buy the paper….which is kind of depressing thinking about it.

Local commercial radio stations are usually good for local advertising and rolling local coverage (namely traffic reports); they’re not so good when it comes to harder news stories and often syndicate UK-wide news with occasional Welsh content. Community radio stations often do a better job, but it comes with the territory and ought to be expected.

The Democratic Deficit (and proposals to fix it)

 

(Pic: via BBC Wales)

 

The “Democratic Deficit” – a term associated with former Llywydd, Dame Rosemary Butler – is the named concern that the media doesn’t do enough to cover the work of the Senedd or doesn’t properly communicate what’s devolved and what isn’t. As a result, there’s a lack of understanding of what the Senedd does and a lack of engagement with the Senedd itself – demonstrated by relatively low turnouts in Welsh general elections.

There have been at least ten high-level reviews into how the media covers the Senedd (and, to a lesser extent, local government) as well as the general state of the Welsh media over the last decade, though with a particular focus on English-language media:

  • Broadcasting Sub-Committee Inquiry on Welsh Newspapers (2009 – pdf).
  • Task and Finish Group inquiry into the future outlook of the Welsh media (2012 – pdf).
  • The (Former) Llywydd’s Review of the Democratic Deficit (2013 – link).
  • The Institute of Welsh Affairs’ Media Audit (2015 – pdf; summary).
  • Assembly Commission Task Force on Digital News & Information (2017 – pdf; summary).
  • Senedd Culture Committee inquiries into broadcasting (2017 – summary), the future of S4C (2017 – summary), news journalism (2018 – summary), radio (2019 – summary) and film & TV (2019 – summary).

The issue of poor media coverage of the Senedd comes up fairly often online and in the chamber and has been formally debated several times. Despite all of these separate reports and inquiries, they’ve all produced similar recommendations:

  • Some sort of journalism hub at the Senedd or improvements to facilities for journalists on the estate.
  • Improvements to how information is presented by Senedd authorities so it’s more user-friendly, plus training for AMs on how to get the most out of social media.
  • The establishment of some kind of media forum or advisory panel and the appointment of Welsh representatives to various BBC and Ofcom boards.
  • Opt-outs for Welsh news on BBC UK network radio stations and improvements to commercial TV and radio licences.
  • Some of the reports and inquiries recommended a newswire service/syndication.
  • Local authorities and the Welsh Government should be allowed to publish statutory notices on online news websites.
  • Grant or funding schemes for online and hyperlocal news outlets and more support for community radio.
  • “Taking the Senedd out to local communities”/ away days.
  • Additional spending by the BBC on English-language programming by and for Wales.

Some of this has already been done.

  • A £200,000 grant funding scheme for the hyperlocal news sector was established for the 2019-20 financial year following a budget agreement between Labour and Plaid Cymru.
  • Wales has representatives on BBC and Ofcom boards and Ofcom has a Welsh advisory committee.
  • Senedd committees hold meetings at different locations in Wales and the Senedd has successfully hosted several “Senedd in your area” events.
  • The Senedd has started using infographics and short videos, made improvements to Senedd TV and a new website is under development.
  • The BBC committed to produce an additional 130 hours of Welsh programming a year (essentially making up for money which had been previously cut from their budget).

What has all this achieved? On a short-term objective assessment, very little if anything at all.

There’s not been any real sea change in clarification of what’s devolved or what isn’t by the UK media – the most recent reaction to which being the establishment of the “That’s Devolved” Twitter account. You can even argue the Welsh electorate are recklessly underinformed – but it’s not necessarily their fault, with Wales having long been post-political.

Having Welsh representatives on Ofcom and BBC boards hasn’t resulted in any significant changes to how Wales is covered by the BBC, commercial radio and commercial TV stations – though there has been a noticeable uptick in programmes from and about Wales, albeit under tried and tested formulas or with the UK network in mind. In some cases, the situation has arguably gone backwards and Ofcom has come under particularly heavy criticism for that with regards radio licensing commitments to Welsh audiences (Part VI).

News, sports coverage (usually rugby union) and current affairs programmes aside, English-language programming for Welsh audiences usually consists of people walking around Wales (or some variant of that). The occasional breakout hit drama (Y Gwyll, Bang, Keeping Faith) is the exception rather than the rule, often requires significant investment and has primarily come about because the programmes were seen to work on the UK network having fully embraced the Scandi-noir inspired zeitgeist for television crime dramas (which won’t last forever).

Where are the gaps in coverage?

Detailed analysis, explanation, discussion, fact-checking and monitoring of devolved and local politics – This goes without saying. While there’s a problem with a lack of reach (rather than coverage) of Welsh political news generally, the distinct lack of higher-level analysis, discussion and debate of the Senedd and Welsh Government’s policy and legislative decisions has fuelled a lack of “cause and effect” in Welsh politics. Serious policy failures are usually met with shoulder shrugs, death by committee/death by inquiry and the occasional short-lived admonishments generating heat and light on social media. Ministers are rarely under the cosh and bucks are regularly passed around. There’s also a dearth of investigative journalism – which is often expensive, time-consuming and legally precarious to undertake even in the best media conditions.

There’s no Welsh equivalent of Newsnight (Sunday Politics Wales, Sharp End, Taro’r Post and The Sunday Supplement probably come close to it, but not close enough). There’s often very little airtime given to AMs outside of the aforementioned programmes as well as Wales Live and Pawb a’i Farn – where the format results in their contributions being reduced to audience-friendly soundbites to generate applause rather than forcing politicians to genuinely think on their feet. Outside of opinion and editorial pieces at The Western Mail, Nation.Cymru, Click on Wales and Desolation Radio, Welsh policy decisions – whilst often reported on superficially by most media outlets (including Senedd Home) – are rarely put in a broader context, but that often means such debate is restricted to the civic society bubble.

It’s easy to say, “Just make a Welsh (English-language) equivalent of Question Time” but based on how that’s going, we should do our best to avoid it and come up with a better format – ideally one without an adversarial audience for politicians to play to. Something similar to Sky’s The Pledge might work. The Hour came very close to being “the one” but was always lacking something and always seemed over-produced and over-thought.

International news from a Welsh perspective – Again, S4C does better here through Newyddion 9 and other programming like Y Byd ar Bedwar. There are plenty of global stories relevant to Wales that we hear nothing about; for example, the Wales in Africa programme, the (previous) work of Welsh MEPs (for however long that lasts), Welsh trade and investment and the impact the Welsh diaspora are having on their respective new homes etc.

Arts, music & culture (in English) – S4C and Radio Cymru cover Welsh arts, music and culture relatively well, but you rarely see or hear anything about eisteddfodau or Welsh art and music in English apart from a few select Radio Wales shows. Also, while there’ve long been attempts to create “The Welsh Father Ted”, efforts at comedy have been been hit-and-miss whilst occasionally producing the odd cult classic. Satire might be one way to address The Democratic Deficit, but given the current state of politics, satire’s as good as dead.

Domestic, women’s and minority sports – Good luck trying to find any in-depth coverage of Welsh domestic football in English within the mainstream media. BBC started broadcasting the Welsh (Rugby) Premiership out of necessity and there’s often little coverage of women’s sport beyond the national football, netball and rugby teams – though things have improved there. The Cardiff Devils are arguably the most successful sports club in Wales and do, to an extent, get good coverage albeit intermittently when compared to rugby and football. That aside, you’ll rarely see, hear or read anything detailed in the mainstream press (other than local newspapers) about Welsh domestic competitions in disability sports, golf, motorsports, hockey, swimming, cycling, mountain biking, boxing, cricket etc. I bet few people even know Wales has our own rally and mountain bike championships, for example, or our own “mini-Youth Olympics” (Gemau Cymru). Online this has mostly been left to the likes of Y Clwb Pel Droed and Dai Sport.

Documentaries about Wales (on everything except nature) – Wales is well-served by wildlife and natural history programming (Iolo Williams shows, Will Millard on the Taff etc.) and the occasional social documentary. Good, nothing wrong with that. The situation’s not so great it comes to economics/business, political history (and Welsh history generally), health etc. As mentioned, there’s a tendency to fall back on the “a person walking around Wales” format or single camera formats following the police etc. because it’s cheap and relatively easy to make, or more light-hearted and likely to be well-received (for example, Rhod Gilbert’s Work Experience and Hayley Goes….).

How are these gaps being filled? What are the advantages and disavantages?

The Blogosphere

Blogs – for those of you who don’t know – are websites (usually informal) that post single articles in chronological order. In Wales, blogs are covering all sorts of topics – not just isolated to politics. This includes food, fashion, lifestyle, local and national history, travel, parenting, music/the arts and sport. Some bloggers might have in-depth knowledge or a passion for a single subject. I suppose, within the broad picture of the Welsh media, you could compare it to the lifestyle pull-outs you get in weekend newspapers except it’s not all in one place.

The advantages are the volume of output and diversity of views – meaning topics ignored by the mainstream media get an airing; absolutely anyone can start a blog and there are no real barriers to entry other than writing ability and commitment. Many professional journalists use/used blogs to develop their skills or to promote their work and when the effort is put into them, the quality can be high.

The disadvantages are that when it comes to current affairs content (politics, economics), it’s male-dominated; according to Vuelio’s 2019 Blogger Survey (pdf), 8% of male bloggers write about politics (0% female) and 5% about business (1% female). There’s also little reach; the same survey suggests 42% of blogs got between 1,000-10,000 unique visitors a month in 2018 and 23% got less than 1,000. From personal experience, it takes years – particularly in a country with a small population and whilst writing in a “difficult” subject like politics – to get an audience big enough to justify the effort. I’ve seen so many new political blogs crop up over the last decade that simply fizzle out after a few articles. The quality of output can vary significantly as well, while bloggers don’t have the same legal protections or professional recognition as journalists.

Specialist information websites and larger blogs/online magazines

When a blog becomes more than just a hobby, it turns into something like this. Most of what I said about blogs applies here, but there’s perhaps a greater sense of professionalism and you start to see trained freelance journalists or amateur bloggers with years of experience make an appearance. Senedd Home probably counts as one of these alongside the larger political blogs and sites like Dai Sport, Business News Wales and Y Clwb Pel Droed. They’re usually focused on a single topic rather than a broader range of news and opinion.

The advantages are that some of the sites have quite a significant following or at the very least a cult-like status, which proves there’s an audience for this kind of work. They may be able to raise enough funding to cover the costs of production, begin to become more attractive to advertisers and (as a result) self-sustaining as a step towards semi-professionalism. They may become experts in a particular area of news and even break stories if they’ve built up the right contacts; I know he’s far from everyone’s cup of tea and I often find his political views and some of the comments left on his site repugnant, but on most objective measures Royston Jones (aka. Jac o’ the North) is one of the best investigative journalists in the country at the moment.

The disadvantages are that many of the sites are one-person outfits and the time commitments are more demanding than a blog. Also, covering one particular topic in detail doesn’t make for a serious news outlet; it’s still a blog and comes with a stereotype that means the work isn’t taken seriously. Sites like these can bridge a gap, but can’t completely close it as relying on altruism and ordinary people doing unpaid work isn’t healthy for journalism at all and is a form of virtual serfdom….or often feels like it.

Independent and hyperlocal news websites

Hyperlocal news websites are independent news websites focusing on a specific geographical area, usually but not always staffed by someone with journalistic training – often reporters laid off from regional and local print titles. Independent news websites and “super blogs” might have a more national focus and accept contributions from a wider number and variety of sources, ensuring a relative diversity of views (i.e. Nation.Cymru, Golwg360, Click on Wales, Parallel.Cymru, Wales247.co.uk, probably Wales Eye too). You could probably include websites run by professional experts and academics as well, such as Elections in Wales.

The advantages are that the hyperlocal news sector in particular often makes up for the loss/decline of local print titles, or publishes stories from and for people who are rooted in a particular community (Caerphilly Observer, Wrexham.com, Deeside.com, Cwmbran Life, The Bangor Aye, We Are Cardiff, My Cardiff North etc.) – meaning they often cover stories the print media don’t and on quicker timescales. Hyperlocal and independent news websites often become eligible for state support – Nation.Cymru’s successful bid for Wales Book Council funding being one example, as is the Welsh Government’s £200,000 hyperlocal fund. These sites tend to have quite a large social media presence and, subsequently, can eventually become professional outlets if they can get advertisers onboard and/or develop the right business model, more often than not being not-for-profit.

The disadvantages are that while getting a site like this off the ground is fairly easy, sustaining them is incredibly difficult if you want to maintain a high standard of output. According to evidence submitted to the Senedd inquiry into news journalism, only 10% of hyperlocal websites generate more than £500-a-month; the former Port Talbot Magnet raised less than £1,500 from its website in total over seven years, yet that compared to £2,500-5,000 per print run.

Nonetheless, if you have the right name/experience and the right campaign, crowdfunding efforts can often raise a significant sum of money for new independent ventures, as was the case with Nation.Cymru. There’s another multimedia project called (provisionally) “New Media Wales” from former head of digital at S4C, Huw Marshall. Following a successful crowdfunding effort, a business case has reportedly been prepared but due to Huw facing some recent health problems it’s taken longer than expected – though apparently an update is due soon.

Podcasts & Youtube

Podcasts are to radio what blogging is to print and online journalism – often with the same advantages and disadvantages. Desolation Radio is the obvious example of a successful Welsh news-based/current affairs podcast and has become something of an online phenomenon with a very loyal fanbase, while the Golau podcast and occasional podcasts on Click on Wales and Wales Online further add to it. Bethan Sayed‘s started one more recently as well covering political and non-political topics.

The barrier to entry is a bit higher than blogging because you often need the right equipment – which can be expensive – to avoid sounding like Toy Mic Trev. You also need to be a bit imaginative with the content so it doesn’t get boring or formulaic – something you can get away with on a blog. When it comes to boring subjects, podcasts are often more engaging and feel more like a seminar or discussion panel than a tome (….like this).

The advantages are that you have a captive audience because people will want to listen to the whole podcast, not dip in and out like on a website. Hearing someone speak can probably build more of an audience connection than writing as well. The main disadvantage is that long podcasts can be dull and it can take time to build up an audience, which is why podcasts usually accompany other work as a spin-off (like a website or newspaper) and are rarely stand alone.

There are a few Welsh Youtube and Instagram celebrities and plenty of videos about Wales on Youtube – but in terms of political and current affairs content it’s not as well-developed as it perhaps could be.

Social Media & Facebook Local Hub Pages

I’m sure most parts of Wales have a “Hub” Facebook page and where they do exist they’re often incredibly popular. Given the fact they’re on Facebook, they come with an instant built-in audience which can grow to the thousands or even low tens of thousands pretty quickly. In many cases, it’s often where local news is broken first via what you could call crowdsourced journalism (even if some of the time it’s gossip) and the concept has been developed further into the (separate) In Your Area website – which is an online community notice board, of sorts.

I’ve always found there’s less of an echo-chamber on Facebook compared to Twitter as every man, woman and their dog are on there across all age groups (though there seem to be fewer under-25s). One of my posts that’ll get praise (or more often, nothing at all) on Twitter might be more rigorously questioned on Facebook. So in terms of engaging the public, Facebook is probably better from a political and news standpoint (as is Reddit to a lesser extent).

There are big drawbacks. The standard of debate on these pages is more often than not pretty poor and dominated by the same people.

There’s also the danger that people don’t read much beyond the headline on a shared article and react to that, not the actual content. Rumours are sometimes treated as fact and facts are sometimes written off as rumours. Facebook’s open-ended, open-access, unrestricted publishing platform has no doubt helped fuel conspiracy theories and populism; there can be a bandwagon effect if a post gets a lot of likes or angry faces in a short space of time and the pages seem like a nightmare to moderate.

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