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Understanding the Internet’s Impact on International Knowledge and Engagement: News Attention, Social Media Use, and the 2010 Haitian Earthquake
Unformatted Document Text:  1 Understanding the Internet’s Impact on International Knowledge and Engagement: News Attention, Social Media Use, and the 2010 Haitian Earthquake Research about the spread of political information has led to a pair of consistent findings: first, that people with higher socioeconomic status (SES) and more education are consistently better informed than people with lower SES and less education (McLeod & Perse, 1994), and second, that those with higher levels of political knowledge and media use acquire news coverage of breaking or unfamiliar events at rates that outpace those who are less informed (Converse, 1975; Wade & Schramm, 1969). In turn, these complementary processes result in a knowledge gap among population groups that has meaningful consequences for individual political participation and notions of societal power and democratic governance (Ettema & Kline, 1977; Tichenor, Donohue, & Olien, 1970). This persistent evidence of a disparity in knowledge based on SES has led political communication scholars to study the contextual factors that increase or decrease information acquisition among different segments of the population based on factors such as education, motivation levels, cognitive processing abilities, and social circumstances (McLeod, Kosicki, & McLeod, 2009). Personal relevance and individual motivation have been found to be important moderators of the knowledge gap, particularly for issues of local politics and health for which self- interest is pertinent and clear (Kwak, 1999; Viswanath & Finnegan, 1996). However, the knowledge gap persists for issues that lower SES individuals perceive as less relevant to their daily lives, such as foreign news. In fact, the news setting in which the knowledge gap has been found to be the widest is in the acquisition of information about international news (Hwang & Jeong, 2009). This disparity is not surprising in light of the theoretical underpinnings of the knowledge gap. International news generally involves complex situations that are difficult to understand, that require higher levels of

Authors: Martin, Jason A..
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Understanding the Internet’s Impact on International Knowledge and Engagement: 
News Attention, Social Media Use, and the 2010 Haitian Earthquake
 
 
 
Research about the spread of political information has led to a pair of consistent findings: 
first, that people with higher socioeconomic status (SES) and more education are consistently better 
informed than people with lower SES and less education (McLeod & Perse, 1994), and second, that 
those with higher levels of political knowledge and media use acquire news coverage of breaking or 
unfamiliar events at rates that outpace those who are less informed (Converse, 1975; Wade & 
Schramm,  1969). In turn, these complementary processes result in a knowledge  gap  among 
population groups that has meaningful consequences for individual political participation and notions 
of societal power and democratic governance (Ettema & Kline, 1977; Tichenor, Donohue, & Olien, 
1970).  
This persistent evidence of a disparity in knowledge based on SES has led political 
communication scholars to study the contextual factors that increase or decrease information 
acquisition  among  different segments of the population based on factors such as education, 
motivation levels, cognitive processing abilities, and social circumstances (McLeod, Kosicki, & 
McLeod, 2009). Personal relevance and individual motivation have been found to be important 
moderators of the knowledge gap, particularly for issues of local politics and health for which self-
interest is pertinent and clear (Kwak, 1999; Viswanath & Finnegan, 1996). However, the knowledge 
gap persists for issues that lower SES individuals perceive as less relevant to their daily lives, such as 
foreign news.  
In fact, the news setting in which the knowledge gap has been found to be the widest is in the 
acquisition of information about international news  (Hwang & Jeong, 2009).  This disparity  is not 
surprising  in light of the theoretical underpinnings of the knowledge gap. International news 
generally involves complex situations that are difficult to understand, that require higher levels of 


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