Social media as a news source

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Social media as a news source is the use of online social media platforms to obtain news. Just as television turned a nation of people who listened to media content into watchers of media content in the 1950s to the 1980s, the emergence of social media has created a nation of media content creators. According to 2011 Pew Research data, nearly 80% of American adults are online and nearly 60% of them use social networking sites.[1]

Through the use of social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, users can communicate with their peers, strangers and online content.[2] Social media has evolved and has become an essential tool among the people, especially youth. Through social media, youth have become more directly involved in protests,[3] social campaigns [4] and generally, in the sharing of news across multiple platforms.[5] As this transition has expanded to the greater use of social media in everyday life, social media has shifted into platforms that are used in accessing individuals’ news sources, especially for political use. Consequently, this malleable technology holds hopes for both liberating and repressive forces which have constantly been battling for social space.

According to the Pew Research Center, which is an internet research company, 62% of adults in the United States get news from social media.,[6] as well as three-fourths who say they get news from e-mail or social media sites updates, according to a report published by CNN. The survey suggests that Facebook and Twitter make news a more participatory experience than before as people share news articles and comment on other people's posts. According to CNN, in 2010 75% of people got their news forwarded through e-mail or social media posts, whereas 37% of people shared a news item via Facebook or Twitter.[7]

In the United States, 81% of people say they look online for news of the weather, first and foremost. National news at 73%, 52% for sports news, and 41% for entertainment or celebrity news. Based on this study, done for the Pew Center, two-thirds of the sample's online news users were younger than 50, and 30% were younger than 30. The survey involved tracking daily the habits of 2,259 adults 18 or older.[8] Thirty-three percent of young adults get news from social networks. Thirty-four percent watched TV news and 13% read print or digital content. Nineteen percent of Americans got news from Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn. 36% of those who get news from the social network got it yesterday from survey. More than 36% of Twitter users use accounts to follow news organizations or journalists. Nineteen percent of users say they got information from news organizations of journalists. TV remains the most popular source of news, but the audience is aging (only 34% of young people).

Social media as communication[edit]

Social media fosters communication. Pew Research Center claims that "more than half of internet users (52%) use two or more of the social media sites measured (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest) to communicate with their family or friends".[9] For children, using social media sites can help promote creativity, interaction, and learning. It can also help them with homework and classwork.[10] Moreover, social media enable them to stay connected with their peers, and help them to interact with each other. Some can get involved in developing fundraising campaigns and political events. However, it can impact social skills due to the absence of face-to-face contact.[11] Social media can affect mental health of teens.[12] Teens who use Facebook frequently and especially who are susceptible may become more narcissistic, antisocial, and aggressive. Teens become strongly influenced by advertising, and it influences buying habits. Since the creation of Facebook in 2004, it has become a distraction and a way to waste time for many users.[13] A headteacher in the United Kingdom commented in 2015, that social media caused more stress to teenage children than examinations, with constant interaction and monitoring by peers ending the past practice where what pupils did in the evening or at weekends was separate from the arguments and peer pressure at school.[14]

Moreover, social media allows all types of data to be interchanged at a global scale[15]. Consequently, this has built onto the globalization of media content, creation, and distribution of data. Due to people’s activities in a network society, cultural values and traditions can be shared, introverts are given an opportunity to interrelate with other people online, as well as virtual communities are formed (“a self-defined electronic network of interactive communication organized around a shared interest or purpose”) (Castells, 2010, pp.386)[15]. Thus, it allows the creation of bonds between relative strangers, disregarding any type of framing, prejudice or any other social barrier (Castells, 2010, pp.388-389).

Use as a news source by young people[edit]

In a 2014 study, high school students ages 18 and younger were examined in an effort to find their preference for receiving news. Based on interviews with 61 teenagers, conducted from December 2007 to February 2011, most of the teen participants reported reading print newspapers only "sometimes," with fewer than 10% reading them daily. The teenagers instead reported learning about current events from social media sites such as Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and blogs.[16] Another study showed that social media users read a set of news that is different from what newspaper editors feature in the print press.[17] Using nanotechnology as an example, a study was conducted that[18] studied tweets from Twitter and found that some 41% of the discourse about nanotechnology focused on its negative impacts, suggesting that a portion of the public may be concerned with how various forms of nanotechnology are used in the future. Although optimistic-sounding and neutral-sounding tweets were equally likely to express certainty or uncertainty, the pessimistic tweets were nearly twice as likely to appear certain of an outcome than uncertain. These results imply the possibility of a preconceived negative perception of many news articles associated with nanotechnology. Alternatively, these results could also imply that posts of a more pessimistic nature that are also written with an air of certainty are more likely to be shared or otherwise permeate groups on Twitter. Similar biases need to be considered when the utility of new media is addressed, as the potential for human opinion to over-emphasize any particular news story is greater despite the general improvement in addressed potential uncertainty and bias in news articles than in traditional media.[19]

Of those younger than 25, 29% said they got no news yesterday either digitally or traditional news platforms. Only 5% under 30 said they follow news about political figures and events in DC. Only 14% of respondents could answer all four questions about which party controls the House, current unemployment rate, what nation Angela Merkel leads, and which presidential candidate favors taxing higher-income Americans. Facebook and Twitter now pathways to news, but are not replacements for traditional ones. Seventy percent get social media news from friends and family on Facebook.[20]

In order to compete in this rapidly changing technological environment, there has been an upheaval of traditional news sources onto online spaces. The production and circulation of newspaper prints have continued to globally decline in accordance with the increasing presence of news outlets on social media. [21] Prominent platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been key in engaging users through the integration of journalistic news into their newsfeeds. [22] This feature has now become a foundational part of these apps' interfaces.

A recent study found that over 70% of adult participants from Kenya, South Africa, Chile, Bulgaria, Greece, and Argentina utilised social media for news while those from France, the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and Japan were reportedly less than 40 percent. [23] Although sourcing news on social media remains popular amongst young people, minorities have raised concern over authoritative reliability on account of lenient moderation and the open-access element of these public platforms. [24]

Societal examples[edit]

On October 2, 2013, the most common hashtag throughout the United States was "#governmentshutdown", as well as ones focusing on political parties, Barack Obama, and healthcare. Most news sources have Twitter, and Facebook, pages, like CNN and the New York Times, providing links to their online articles, getting an increased readership. Additionally, several college news organizations and administrators have Twitter pages as a way to share news and connect to students.[25] According to "Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2013",[26] in the US, among those who use social media to find news, 47% of these people are under 45 years old, and 23% are above 45 years old. However social media as a main news gateway does not follow the same pattern across countries. For example, in this report, in Brazil, 60% of the respondents said social media was one of the five most important ways to find news online, 45% in Spain, 17% in the UK, 38% in Italy, 14% in France, 22% in Denmark, 30% in the U.S., and 12% in Japan.[26] Moreover, there are differences among countries about commenting on news in social networks, 38% of the respondents in Brazil said they commented on news in social network in a week. These percentages are 21% in the U.S. and 10% in the UK. The authors argued that differences among countries may be due to culture difference rather than different levels of access to technical tools.[26]

Protesters from the 2011 Arab Spring protest in Aden, Al Mansoora.

An influential example of social media making news more accessible and widely spread would be the Arab Spring. Protesters used social media platforms, to create plans for in person protests and to spread video and images captured from the events that were created online.[27]

Rainie and Wellman have argued that media making now has become a participation work,[28] which changes communication systems. The center of power is shifted from only the media (as the gatekeeper) to the peripheral area, which may include government, organizations, and out to the edge, the individual.[29] These changes in communication systems raise empirical questions about trust to media effect. Prior empirical studies have shown that trust in information sources plays a major role in people's decision making.[30] People's attitudes more easily change when they hear messages from trustworthy sources. In the Reuters report, 27% of respondents agree that they worry about the accuracy of a story on a blog.[26] However, 40% of them believe the stories on blogs are more balanced than traditional papers because they are provided with a range of opinions. Recent research has shown that in the new social media communication environment, the civil or uncivil nature of comments will bias people's information processing even if the message is from a trustworthy source,[31] which bring the practical and ethical question about the responsibility of communicator in the social media environment.

The case study on the 2013 urban protests in Brazil reflects how digital communication form a new type of e-democracy in mass societies[32]. The case study reveals how Brazilians used social media to organize manifestations regarding cost of public transportation, violence, homophobia, and corruption. The young population dominated the demonstrations. They posted videos and pictures on WhatsApp chat groups, created online events on Facebook, and gathered over 250.000 protestors on the streets. Consequently, Brazilians were able to modify functions in an institutionalized system, not only by promoting awareness on certain social problems, but also by inducing president Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment in 2016[32].


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