Crowd checking vs fact checking: social media as a source of news

Social media changed expectations we have of mass media and journalists. ‘Breaking News’ or, instant news altered media and increased competition between media outlets. There is a pressure for journalists to publish stories quickly due to the increase in competition with other media outlets.

This is problematic, because as journalists publish a story promptly, it is likely to contain mistakes. Since these stories have already been published, journalists will only be able to correct them in the aftermath. But, due to the multiplicity of news in social media, it is likely the audience will not be able to, or, will not take account of updates.

As W. Russel Neuman highlights, new media technologies alter the flow of communication by “decreasing the cost and distance sensibility of moving information”[1]. This issue due to social media flow is particularly important as it changes the perception people have of journalists.

This tendency has led to issues of ‘fake news’ allegations as journalists were accused of publishing incorrect, ‘fake’ stories. Politicians such as Donald Trump have popularised the term and used it for their own ends. Consequently, the new age has certainly issued new pressures to media outlets compelling them to instant news. Another issue is the usage of social media as a source of news and the diversity of information and platforms on social media.

Nowadays, following market’s rule many newspapers have vanished or adapted themselves. For instance, The Independent is only available online now. And, following the market, as Kinetic, a marketing and advertising agency highlights, “to follow the money, but what that requires these days more than ever is following your audience”[2].

With the increasing usage of social media by the audience, media outlets adapted themselves to the new market. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalist has recently published a research[3], in this survey 28 % of the 18-24-years-olds stated social media as their main source of news. The research also suggested 51% of people who have online access use social media as their main source of news, especially platforms such as Facebook (1st) and Twitter (2nd) respectively.

These interactive platforms have enabled media outlets to have direct interaction with their audience. Through these platforms, they provided their audience with live and personalised information. Hence, Wilma Stassen argues social media outlets “have since evolved into powerful tools for communication that are being harnessed by the news media to interact with audiences”[4].

That is, using platforms with the audience’s personal information to target specific groups of people. These platforms also empowered media outlets with new tools to find witnesses and interviewees. The digital age and the rise of social media as a source of news led to the rise of citizen journalism and empowered people as they are at the heart of news.

However, the main issue with social media is accuracy. With the usage of usernames and the lack of a defined identity on social media, how is it possible to distinguish the truth from false allegations? Or, even, to prove one’s identity?

Thus, issues of fake news stories have recently risen in the media due to the popularisation of the term by politicians in the recent elections in the United States and in France. But, the growth of fake news is due to the usage of internet, social media as a source of news caused by their lack of reliability.

Buzzfeed[5] has recently published an article stating the top 50 “fake news of 2016”. The first fake news story of the top 5 political news story is by ABCNews “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The Pledge Of Allegiance In Schools Nationwide” ranked hit 2,177,000 Facebook shares, comments and reactions.

The second ‘fake’ story has been published by tmzhiphop, “Police find 19 female bodies in freezers with “Black Lives Matter” carved into skin” hit 525,000 shares, comments and reactions. These stories are all about generating reactions from the audience. To achieve this, these WordPress blogs used similar names to other media outlets.

Another technique is using headlines to generate clicks. That is, using a shocking headline to provoke emotional reaction from the audience leading them to click on the article. As Andrew Dodds and Jason Vir[6] argue, the increasing usage of social media as a source of news is due to its effortlessness and interactivity. And, as there is a tendency for readers to focus only on headlines and, these bloggers will take advantage of this.

Using social media as a source of news and fake news stories have greatly affected journalism. Bloggers have used people’s general distrust of journalists for their own ends. They claim they are citizen journalists opposed to the elitist and biased media outlets. Thus, as the profession of journalist is itself blurry, it became impossible to determine the boundaries and, anyone can claim to be a journalist. Yet, the idealist definition of citizen journalist is of Jay Rosen “When the people, formerly known as the audience, employ the press tools in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism”[7].

Arguably, politicians also took advantage of this tendency as well, they used distrust for media platforms to stifle their scandals. One example of this, is the French presidential candidate Francois Fillon. He accused journalists who reported the scandal, Penelope gate, to generate fake stories. And, this led his supporters to harass journalists in rallies. Thus, due to the increasing competition between media outlets on social media and fake news stories allegations, journalists must prove to their audience they are trustworthy.

The BBC has found a solution to check online sources through the UGC monitor hub. Sources or witnesses found on social media are checked before they are used. For instance, before they use their statements, they ask their interviewees to provide them with information such as a boarding pass, if they were in a flight. However other media outlets do not have this process yet.

Social increasingly became a platform for ‘viral marketing’[8] as, for instance, it enables politicians to address directly their audience while using live video. This is problematic as traditional mass media provides the audience with a filter enabling them to have a balance of sources. Thus, multiplicity of sources on social media does not only affect the reliability of news but also the audience’s ability to discern the truth.

 

 

[1] Neuman, W.R. (1991) The Future of the Mass Audience in Louw, E. (2005) The media and political process London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif. : SAGE page 119

[2]  Kinetic Social – The Power of Social Media Advertising. (2017). Kineticsocial.com. Retrieved 13 April 2017, from http://www.kineticsocial.com/resource/power-social-media-advertising/

[3] Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (2016) Reuters Institute Digital News Report, Digitalnewsreport.org. Retrieved 10 March 2017, from http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/

[4]Stassen, W. (2010) Your news in 140 characters: exploring the role of social media in journalism. Global Media Journal – African Edition 4 page 116

[5] Silverman, C. (2016). Here Are 50 Of The Biggest Fake News Hits On Facebook From 2016. BuzzFeed. Retrieved 1 April 2017, from https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/top-fake-news-of-2016?utm_term=.cdNoPWXGK#.lvW1jP9qA

[6] Dodds. A. and Vir. J. (2016) The Future for News Brand in an Increasingly Distributed and Fragmented World. In Digital News Report 2016.  Retrieved 19 April 2017, from http://www.digitalnewsreport.org/essays/2016/future-news-brands-increasingly-distributed-fragmented-world/

[7] Rosen, J. (2008) A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism. PressThink: Ghost of Democracy in the Media Machine, 12 April. http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2008/ 07/14/a_most_useful_d.html

[8] Coined term by the firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson (1997) in Mills. A.J. (2012) Virality in social media: the SPIN Framework. Journal of Public Affairs. Vol 12 issue 2 page 163

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