DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives

Pluralism of online news – PIL

The influence of digital technology on the quality and pluralism of online information

The digitization of the media is an a priori favorable factor for the formation of plural opinions, which guarantee the proper functioning of democracy. However, this pluralism of content and sources is not in itself synonymous with quality of information. Our hypothesis is precisely that digital technology, through economic models and information practices, could affect quality by facilitating the circulation of inferior information.

The PIL project considers the ambivalent effects of the economic and social transformations brought about by digital technology on the quality and pluralism of information (QPI).

A number of studies point out the risks to information pluralism posed by the concentration of economic power, advertising funding and the circulation of false or poor quality information. However, to our knowledge, few studies link these aspects to the central questions of digital production and distribution models and the online information practices of individuals. The objective of this multidisciplinary and collaborative project is precisely to explore the articulation between, on the one hand, the evolution of media concentration, digital business models and social practices and, on the other hand, information pluralism at the level of content and sources. To do so, this project relies on innovative methodological approaches crossing the socio-economic (analysis of markets, uses, practices and networks) and informatics (linguistic representations and analysis of community dynamics) fields.<br />Contrary to many research programs evaluating the effects of digital technology on the diversity of forms of information processing and expression and analyzing either the pluralism of the information produced or the pluralism consumed, the PIL project focuses on a systemic study of the socio-economic dimensions of QPI. It aims to understand how, in the era of digital platforms and Big Data, the strategies of producers, the informational practices of consumers, and the forms of media concentration are articulated to give rise to new issues of pluralism and quality of information in circulation. The PIL project therefore aims to fill important gaps in the literature and to formulate recommendations according to possible trajectories of evolution in the media industry.

The methods developed within the framework of ANR PIL combine different disciplinary approaches (economics, CIS, computer science, sociology, law).
Beyond the definition of the concept of pluralism, the project has developed new multidisciplinary approaches for the analysis of socio-economic factors, based on two methodological components.
- The first component - mapping the behaviors of economic actors (consumers, producers and regulators). This component is based on mixed methods (quantitative/qualitative) combining large-scale questionnaire surveys, online data collection (in particular, for the analysis of business models), interviews and case studies. This component builds on the original analytical grids and methods developed in our previous studies and other work in progress.
- The second part - the new forms of social interactions between actors in the specific context of the production and consumption of information goods - is based on complementary methods: (1) detection of communities and their dynamics, from data science and Social Network Analysis; (2) discourse analysis, from computational linguistics; (3) and qualitative corpus analysis.

(1) On the production side, we conducted qualitative (40 surveys on the transformation of journalistic practices) and quantitative (evolution of business models of 85 representative press titles in 2015-2020) studies of the French media. Using content analysis methods, we compare business models with measures of the quality of the information produced. In particular, we measure originality and rhetorical analysis in a corpus of over 90,000 press articles extracted for this purpose. By analyzing the offer of the French representative media in terms of online news, we were able to map the new trends in the editorial choices of the press actors and to evaluate the diversity of the online news offer, facing the differentiated expectations of the consumers of this information.
With the help of the lexicometric analysis of the corpus, we were also able to address the issue of pluralism of framing and the diversity of sources in the media.
(2) The results of the questionnaire on a large sample of consumers (< 4000 answers) shed light on the evolution of information practices and the preferences of information consumers.
(3) On the platform side, we were able to analyze the evolution of communities and the formation of echo chambers on Youtube. The comment history of 60 media channels was extracted for this purpose. Social network analysis and content analysis tools are mobilized to detect communities, analyze the discourse and understand their evolution over time. We show that the interactions around videos on the different channels can contain a «hidden« part which is concretized by a formation of communities, at the inter-channel and inter-video level, of Youtube users and which are likely to orientate their information choices and their opinions.
At the intersection of the different tasks of the project, we were able to contribute to several research questions:
- How do consumers' varied preferences for information quality relate to their choices of information sources on social networks ?
- Based on the practices of social network users (analysis of the Youtube platform), what value does being shared give to information?
- What is the link between the economic models of press titles (quantitative analysis of the BM) and the perception of the characteristics of the information by their consumers (large-scale survey of the PIL)?
This way, our project constitutes an original contribution to the study of the political, ethical, cultural and economic stakes associated with the transformations of the media under the impact of digital technology.

First of all, the multiple and fruitful results of the ANR PIL, lead us to consider in the medium term the setting up of a project on a European scale. Unlike many research programs evaluating the effects of digital technology on the press and information and analyzing either the pluralism of the information produced or the pluralism consumed, the PIL project focuses on a systemic study of the socio-economic dimensions of information quality and pluralism. More precisely, it has contributed to a better understanding of how, in the era of networks and big data, the strategies of producers, the informational practices of consumers, and the forms of concentration of digital platforms are articulated to give rise to new issues of pluralism and quality of information in circulation.
These results provide a solid basis for a new project in collaboration with international partners. Expanding our field of study, the objective of the project will be to produce media maps for the different national systems, to assess on this basis their information quality, to compare them on a cross-country scale, and to formulate recommendations for public policies and corporate strategies.
In the short term, we are starting a CIFRE (Conventions industrielles de formation par la recherche) PhD thesis between the company MAGIC LEMP and IMT Atlantique. It is a continuation of our work initiated in the framework of the ANR PIL. In the CIFRE file validated by the ANRT, we propose an original project co-constructed by the company specialized in AI, and the researchers in computer science and economics of IMT Atlantique. It aims at analyzing the propagation patterns of online journalistic information, in particular political speech, according to the characteristics of these contents (format, neutrality, source, veracity, etc.) and the community dynamics between the users who convey them.
Despite the popularity of the topic and the growing number of works in this area, the links between the characteristics of information and the dynamics of online information propagation remain relatively little addressed. Why is some information shared more than others? Is it the characteristics of the information that determine the interactions or, conversely, certain icommunity forms that attract a certain type of content (for example, through algorithms)? More generally, how does the supply of information relate to the diversity of demand? To answer these questions, the thesis project focuses on the development of algorithms to analyze different main types of information using recent machine learning tools,

The scientific productions of the PIL project fall into different complementary categories:
- 22 publications in national and international peer-reviewed journals :
- 2 public reports
- 3 technical reports
- 2 book directions and 9 chapters
- 2 coordinations of special issues on the online press
- Organization and participation in 12 international and national conferences
- Other valorizations: participation in seminars, workshops and round tables

In collaboration with the IMSIC team of Aix Marseille and with the support of Labex ICCA, the Blog «Quality and Pluralism of Information« was launched in 2019. Its contents are available on the project website: www.anr-pil.org/blog/.

Some studies demonstrate the riskiness of market concentration and advertising income for the media pluralism. However, to our knowledge rare researches address this question by linking market structure to business models and users’ information practices. This is the goal of our multidisciplinary collaborative project which attempts to explore the linkages between, on the one hand, evolution of industrial concentration, economic models and social practices in the media sector, and, on the other hand, the information pluralism in terms of content, sources and information presentation (P.Napoli, 2001). Another purpose of this project is methodological. It contributes to the development of innovative approaches in socio-economic framework of market analysis and in methods of linguistic representations and community dynamics.

Project coordination

Inna Lyubareva (Ecole Nationale Supérieur Mines Telecom Atlantique Bretagne Pays de la Loire)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IMT Atlantique Ecole Nationale Supérieur Mines Telecom Atlantique Bretagne Pays de la Loire

Help of the ANR 386,015 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2018 - 36 Months

Useful links

Explorez notre base de projets financés



ANR makes available its datasets on funded projects, click here to find more.

Sign up for the latest news:
Subscribe to our newsletter