This article investigates the relationship between digital news coverage of protests and the audience’s willingness to engage with a story about Black Lives Matter on social media. Using a 3x2 experiment, we evaluate if news frames from the protest paradigm literature (riot, confrontation, and legitimizing) and the presence of an accompanying visual would make people more likely to read, like, share and comment on a news story about a street demonstration on social media. We also tested if news portrayal of protests might influence people’s level of support for the movement, which in turn could lead to different types of social media engagement outcomes. Results show that only the presence of visuals has a direct impact on willingness to share a story, with frames having a limited influence on behaviour if compared to other pre-existing attitudes about the police and protesters. However, we also found that the relationship between frames and social media engagement is mediated by a change in these attitudes and increased support for the movement. These findings suggest that engagement outcomes with digital news coverage are contingent on people’s support for the movement portrayed, although legitimizing coverage can influence those attitudes and shape social media behaviour in return.
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- Protest coverage
- social media engagement
- social movements