Switching off: valuing younger audiences wellbeing online - Reuters News Agency

Switching off: valuing younger audiences wellbeing online

Anxiety around news in the digital environment continues to be an issue affecting younger audiences. Supporting wellbeing is at the top of the agenda.

Photographer Credit – Name

By Sahar Amer | Jan 15, 2020

From the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2019, of all age groups who participated, 32% worldwide say they actively avoid the news, which is up 6% since 2017. In the UK, people say they are switching off from the news because it has a negative effect on their mood (58%) and because they feel powerless to change events (40%). 

Overall, there exists a common understanding among publishers that younger generations in particular tend to have a lot of anxiety around the news and are worried about the state of the world. According to research conducted by the BBC Research & Development team, ‘anxiety and helplessness caused by the news means that 16-34 year-olds spend less time looking at it’. 

The constant slew of information readily accessible through smartphones and the internet – particularly surrounding Brexit/Trump – is causing people to tune out. To combat this, platforms and publishers have been developing digital wellbeing strategies in order to improve on these statistics in the future.

What the platforms are doing

In 2018, Google introduced a ‘digital wellbeing’ tool which enables people to see how much time they’re spending on each app per day in order to decrease the amount of time spent on their smartphone. 

More recently, in July, Instagram ran a test in 7 different countries that hides the total number of Likes and video views among its users. Facebook have also followed suit by experimenting with hiding the Like count to see if it can ‘improve users’ sense of well-being’. 


Focusing on wellbeing and value

The BBC Research & Development team have been prototyping “mood filter” web extensions aimed at their younger audiences to give them more control over what they choose to read. The tool allows readers to single-out specific words which they can choose to blur in an article replaced by a warning overlay. 

Using a simple Javascript code,  the Web Extension allows users to easily download, navigate and share with others. Although it is not yet adaptable for smartphone use, it has provided the BBC R&D team with some useful insights into how people can use the prototype for future development.

BBC Research & Development

Results from the seven 18-24 year olds that took part in the test: 

  • 42% of people understood from their first impression of what the extension would do
  • 28% of people thought it was good that the story was left in place
  • 14% of people thought that the blurring just drew attention to it

We also spoke to Lianne Kerlin, Research Scientist at BBC R&D whose recent study on rethinking psychological needs in a digital age explores the importance of understanding human values to realizing underlying needs and psychological drivers of the 16-34 year old audience. 

“The digital landscape has radically changed in the last few years, so behaviours are changing too. To understand what value looks like in a digital age, we need to get to grips with what’s important in the lives of younger audiences.”  

Lianne Kerlin

Lianne explains what the research set out to do, “the focus is to develop a framework around what’s fundamentally important to people and how values drive behaviour. The online environment is increasingly competing for audiences time and attention, but the BBC wants to place audience value and wellbeing at the core of its mission.” 

She continues, “the BBC prioritises the younger age group between 16-34 years old as their lives are mostly affected by the internet and digital technologies. The demographic of the age group is also important because values are situated over the course of life, for example we tend to see a change in priority from going to school, on to higher education, to relocation and life change, on to finding a partner, focusing on a career and becoming a parent.” 

From a combination of desktop research, academic sources, interviews and focus groups, 14 core values were identified from the project:

BBC Research & Development

The BBC R&D team has created a digitized practical toolkit from the findings of the year long scientifically evidenced research study for teams to implement within their operations. 

Lianne says, “the aim of the toolkit is to help teams ideate and realize the value of putting audiences at the centre. We’re offering the tools to innovate around value as well as the means to measure new forms of value. We believe that honing in on getting the right metrics to measure value will help the business to demonstrate the success of delivering public purposes in a digital age. This will help to deliver a personalised BBC that plays into people’s values and not just into their media consumption.” 

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