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From 'two TV' households to ubiquitous smartphones: How Irish media habits have changed this decade

From Taoisigh announcing their resignation on Twitter, to misleading political ads, here’s a quick review of how we’ve changed.

Image: Shutterstock/Dulin

IT’S PERHAPS A sad and slightly fitting symbol of the decade past that its final year included the restructuring of state broadcaster RTÉ and a deep look by management at how it needed to change to survive.

Back in 2009/2010, less than two thirds of households had access to the internet, while around 64.8% had two television sets. Now, over 89% have access to the internet, and the number of households with two televisions has fallen.

On the print side, the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), show that the number of copies of daily print titles – including UK newspapers sold in Ireland – fell by nearly 50% to 232,410 copies sold a day on average when compared to last year.

The sale of Sunday papers were down 58% between January and June this year compared to last year, with an average circulation of 333,900 newspapers each week.

It shows how dramatically media habits have developed in 10 years: from when the internet was an exciting new phenomenon, to ballooning into a foundation for our day-to-day, and one that we’re struggling to get a complete hold on.

Facebook is now the most popular method for accessing news in Ireland and across the EU, according to the latest Reuters Digital News Report. Interestingly, using WhatsApp for this is more popular in Ireland (at 15%) than the EU average.

The smartphone continues to grow in terms of personal use for access to news with over half of people (56%) now using the device to access news weekly, well ahead of the EU average (50%) and the UK (49%).

“So many people now are downloading and taking RTÉ content on their screens, and they should pay for that,” RTÉ board chair Moya Doherty said recently, representing the concern within RTÉ has that if it doesn’t start charging people for content accessed via the internet, the public service broadcaster won’t last forever.

The growth of the smartphone has also been driving the popularity of podcasts, especially among younger age groups. More than a third of Irish respondents to the Reuters survey (37%) say they have consumed at least one podcast over the last month, well ahead of the UK at just 21%.

Online shopping has also grown: in 2014, Google’s Consumer Barometer survey of about 1,000 people found that nearly half of all people with computers searched for products at least once a week. A much smaller share, only 14%, actually used them to shop.

download Source: Google Consumer Barometer

In January 2017, a report by Visa found that online spending is growing at “a substantial pace”, registering a rise of 15.4%.

An Ipsos poll on behalf of PayPal found that Irish consumers spent €2.7 million on foreign-owned websites in 2017, and are now the biggest online shoppers on foreign websites in the world.

According to a PwC report, 25% of Irish consumers shop online weekly or more frequently using any device. 

Data protection

With all this access to greater services at cheaper prices, comes a trade off: and that’s citizens’ data. Many apps ask to access to all sorts of corners of your phone that they don’t need, before you download them; websites ask can they access your ‘cookies’ before you read the site, and you need to submit an email to make many purchases.

In the case of massive tech giants like Facebook and Google, users often willingly sign away their data for the efficiency and ease of their services.

Often, people don’t know just how much of their data they’re giving away – for photos uploaded to Facebook, for example, its Facebook that technically owns the copyright on them.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in the wake of the EU referendum showed the dangerous end of how dangerous that can be: a US regulator found that the firm deceived Facebook users about how it collected and handled their personal information.

It found that the political consulting firm “engaged in deceptive practices to harvest personal information from tens of millions of Facebook users for voter profiling and targeting”.

All of this brings us to GDPR. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force on 25 May 2018, binds social media platforms and websites to ensure they have users’ explicit consent to collect personal data for advertising purposes or on behalf of third parties.

Although it’s been praised for putting pressure on tech giants, the transition has not always been easy – companies inside and outside the EU have spent hundreds of millions of euros to comply with the regulations.

Misinformation and disinformation

Meanwhile, concern about misinformation and disinformation is growing. Some 61% of Irish respondents to the Reuters Digital News Report are concerned about distinguishing what is real or fake on the internet.

Although this is well below the UK (70%) and US (67%), it is much higher than in Germany (38%) and the Netherlands (31%). Some 32% say they have started relying on more ‘reputable’ sources of news while a further 22% say they have stopped using sources that had a dubious reputation.

During the Eighth Amendment referendum, a focus was put on the factual accuracy of information on old and new advertising equipment. For example, posters made statements about the development of a foetus – but no authority was responsible to make sure this information was accurate. 

Misinformation was evident on Facebook too, and caused confusion for voters about who they could rely on, and where they would go to for information.

In the weeks before the vote on 25 may 2018, Facebook announced that it was banning Facebook ads related to the upcoming referendum if they were from advertisers based outside of Ireland.

Google then announced that it was suspending advertisements relating to the Eighth Amendment referendum, including ads on YouTube and GoogleAdwords. This was the first time that it had taken action like this on a referendum or election. 

Politicians

Political parties are using memes and other humour graphics as a way of reaching their prospective voter base.

Politicians now send out important statements, election campaign videos, their stance on a Bill or vote – and even statements confirming Taoisigh resigning, all on Twitter and Facebook. 

It changes the dynamic between the voter and their public representative – it can be easier to get in touch with them, but also easier for politicians to slip up.

Controversies around politicians’ old tweets – both here at home and in the UK – showed just how damaging a social media presence can be for politicians. 

In short, it was a decade for the fall of traditional media and the growth of online outlets, with this resulting in free information to all who want it – but also leaving citizens vulnerable to manipulation and disinformation. 

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