Many people rely on social networks like Facebook and Twitter for real-time information. Since it’s such a common way for people to communicate now, it’s easy to see how social media has evolved communication.
Social media is revolutionizing real-time information by democratizing the collection and dissemination of rapid local and world events. Social networks have also connected individuals with hubs of thought centered around companies, organizations, influencers, or collective movements.
Social media can be a force for good by spreading news quickly and keeping us connected with family, friends, and fellow humans. But social networks’ viral capabilities can also be destructive, quickly spreading and amplifying all the expressively toxic qualities that come with being human.
The Positive Impacts of Social Media on News
Availability of the news to all socioeconomic levels
Real-time information is now available to everyone at once. Slower traditional media before the internet depended heavily on the cost to own a TV and potentially a service, have a phone or even buy a newspaper. These distribution channels took days, if not weeks, for the general audience to receive a full report of events.
Social media, born into the Internet Age, further accelerates the news spread by allowing everyone to push updates to their social graph. Unfortunately, there’s a negative tradeoff that I’ll talk about later, but near real-time pushication (coined here) democratizes the speed of how fast news travels and all a near-zero cost.
Increased reach at lower costs
News organizations can reach larger audiences at a lower cost. The internet provided an additional platform to broadcast professional new stories in the 1990s and 2000s.
With the rise of social media, a news room’s individual reports can spread further in a push-from-a-friend format to new audiences. This spread through social sharing makes it easier for stories to get into interested hands. Still, it also leads to the problem of forming filter bubbles which I’ll explain in the next section.
Democratizes reporting on breaking news
Social media enables everyone to be a news reporter. It used to be expensive to find breaking news, but with over 6.5 billion smartphones in use, ordinary people can document events in real-time and broadcast them on social media to millions of people instantly…including news organizations.
Experienced reporters can use social media as a source for breaking news. They can then apply their training and experience to vet, write, and report a more accurate account.
News companies will then publish their versions of the news back into social media channels. This aggregation and republishing benefits many newsrooms by lowering their reporting costs and increasing the number of eyeballs on their content. This extended reach allows news organizations to write stories that appeal to existing and hopefully new audiences.
Innovates types of news content
Many news organizations are doing this today by covering breaking news while also producing trending news items specifically targeted for sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
Unfortunately, plenty of problems arise when mixing professional reporting with amateur sourcing and spreading news.
The Negative Impacts of Social Media on News
Requires rising above the noise
The most notable impact of social media on the news is the need to fight the additional noise. Established news outlets must fight for attention alongside updates about Aunt Judy’s cat’s new sweater. 😼🧵
Humans are granted only a set number of hours each day. Before social media, the news was an intentional pull of updates.
But now, social media pushes a mixed bag of stories to readers where quality research has the potential to fight for the same attention as fake news stories and everything in between the two.
News cycle acceleration
Social media has also forced traditional media to respond to and publish faster to keep pace with social media’s velocity in spreading breaking news. But generally, quality reporting requires a bit more time to produce.
Established media outlets must research earlier, often with the help of established contacts with deeper or inside connections to events. But this is the primary competitive advantage over social media.
Publication of the latest (less quality) news via near-instant 24/7 reporting along with the speed and spread provided social networks that professional newsrooms have to battle.
It’s not uncommon that the need to produce ever more content that is quickly forgotten outweighs the quality of research and reporting.
Mixed or misunderstood messages
News is in the eye of the reader. Even purely reported numerical data published in journals is frequently misinterpreted by the reader’s beliefs. Writers can also draw flawed conclusions or produce unclear reactions and wording. The fidelity loss as the findings are reinterpreted is further compounded when it leaves the hands of trained reporters.
Social media is generally an emotional place.
News stories, which may be only partially researched, are quickly passed along the social graph with facts added, removed, and emotionally slanted. This filtering often leads to misunderstanding of the original event or the researcher’s or reporter’s on-the-ground account.
Amplifying the (wrong) part of the message
People have a tendency to amplify the wrong part of professional news. While Uncle Fred’s adoration of the Stranger Things season finale is pretty cut and dry, world events are far more nuanced.
As complex events spread on the social network, the mixed or misunderstood messages are amplified and later become outrageous claims as fact.
Layered on top of the viral spread of the inaccurate message is the use of AI algorithmically causes filter bubbles and echo chambers for users. Social media companies invest heavily to keep people on their platforms.
For example, “11% of Indonesians who said they used Facebook also said they did not use the internet,” as reported by Quartz clearly indicating that news reported through social media potentially has had too many filters applied.
Spreads no matter what
The increased number of distribution channels makes it easy to spread untrue information without an “undo” button or take-backs.
Posts shared through social media do so faster than mainstream news platforms. Generally, news staff help ensure the news is reported from a distancing perspective based on journalistic principles. Social media has no constraint nor desire to appropriately provide a retraction function.
If you say it or spread it on social media, it’ll be on the whole internet forever…it’d better be good reporting.
This brings us to the ethics in publishing.
New organizations have a set of standards to uphold to retain a reputation built over time. Compromising these ethics in reporting the news is a recipe for losing company-crushing revenue.
The news reported through social media apps generally lacks integrity since there’s little concern for credible sources, ethical filtering, and reputation management.
Social media’s real-time nature gives us access to a mutated (often mutilated) version of events with no take-backs.