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Political Knowledge Gaps and the Role of the BBC in the Era of Misinformation

Marta Cantijoch Cunill
11:30am, Tuesday 30 April 2019
Reuters Institute, 13 Norham Gardens, Oxford OX2 6PS

The Reuters Institute welcomes Marta Cantijoch as guest speaker at our RISJ research seminar in April.

During Marta's talk she will present the main findings of a project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council's Impact Acceleration Account and developed jointly by researchers from the University of Manchester and the BBC Research and Development Department. The project examined whether established news sources such as the BBC can help to reduce the so-called ‘knowledge gap’ between more and less well educated citizens in society. More specifically it explored the extent to which those with higher or lower levels of political knowledge relied on the BBC online for news and information. The research addressed the following questions:

  • Do the information-rich get richer in the online environment?
  • How do less resourceful audience members find their way to information?
  • Can we develop ways to further increase knowledge acquisition among the information-poor and reduce their vulnerability to misinformation?


The study used an innovative mixture of original primary data. During a period of 6 weeks researchers monitored the media habits and news consumption of a small sample of BBC users. This was done through collection of large-scale behavioural data capturing all activity on the Audiences portal. They then administered a weekly online questionnaire where participants were asked standard survey questions to report their media habits. These short structured questionnaires were complemented with an open-ended weekly reflective online diary, where participants wrote, in their own words, about their experiences, choices and preferences when consuming news and other content from different sources and in different formats.

Their findings revealed that most users of BBC online services, and in particular those with higher levels of political knowledge, engaged in very rich media diets, making use of a diversity of sources for political information. However, clear patterns of inequality emerged between the information-rich and the information-poor, the latter being, in general, less frequently exposed to news about politics and current affairs and more likely to encounter information unintentionally as a as a result of browsing for other reasons or following links on social media. Questioning the reliability of the news they encounter was a very common attitude in the sample. Among the most sophisticated participants, doubts on misinformation were addressed with steps taken to verify information on further news sites. The information-poor did not express engaging in this type of action.

Marta will discuss the substantive implications of the findings and how this project helped her and her colleagues inform the design and delivery of media services aimed at actively supporting the learning and civic engagement of BBC audiences. The presentation will showcase how mixed methodologies can be used to supplement large-scale behavioural data collected by the BBC (and other media organisations) to understand the drivers of different online activities and preferences.

Marta Cantijoch

Marta is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Manchester and a convener of the research cluster Democracy & Elections. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She moved to Manchester in 2010 to work as a researcher in the Institute for Social Change. In 2014 she joined the Department of Politics as a lecturer and Q-Step coordinator.

In her research, she explores the role of the internet and social media in reshaping the ways in which citizens engage with politics. She is particularly interested in how citizens use the internet to develop their citizenship skills. She has extensive experience collecting and analysing survey data. She advised the British Election Study team on measuring online media use in the 2015 General Election study, and in 2017 she worked with the team developing the European Social Survey to update their questionnaire to capture new forms of online participation. In her most recent projects she has adopted a mixed methodology combining quantitative, qualitative and large-scale data sources.

Her work has been published in top tier journals both in Political Science (e.g. Journal of Politic) and Political Communication (e.g. New Media & Society). She is also the co-editor of the Routledge Handbook of Elections, Voting Behavior and Public Opinion (2018).


Please note that prior booking is required by email to : registration is on first-come-first-served basis and seats are limited.