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South Dakota researchers use Capitol insurrection to study social media compulsion

LA Johnson

This interview is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

Two faculty members of South Dakota State University's School of Communication and Journalism are using the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol to research the motives of compulsive social media use during a breaking news event.

Kathryn Coduto is an assistant professor of communication and media studies at SDSU. She has studied compulsive social media use before, but as she watched rioters storm the Capitol building last January, she saw an opportunity.

“I also just knew that I had wanted to study social media in a breaking news environment and just hadn't had the chance to do it yet,” she said.

Dr. Caduto worked with Jenn Anderson, an associate professor of communication studies, to put together a survey. Anderson said everything moved quickly.

“We were actually putting the survey together as we had the TV on in the background. And about 24 hours after we submitted it, it was approved," she said. "We had the survey ready and people were responding by Friday, January 8th.”

They surveyed people who were engaging with social media during the insurrection and asked open-ended questions: How would you describe this event? What were your attitudes about what was going on?

They also asked participants to check off the social media platforms they used during the insurrection. The list included Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Reddit and even the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

They found the more platforms people used, the more preoccupied and invested they were in the breaking news. They also found that people engaging in this compulsive social media use also generated the most online content.

Dr. Anderson and Dr. Coduto conducted a follow up study with participants six months after the insurrection. They wanted to gauge their outlook and feelings on the event after a significant amount of time had passed and compare it to their immediate reactions.

They are still sorting through that data.

Megan hosts All Things Considered and the SDPB News podcast.