Social Media as a News Source: Potentials and Pitfalls

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It’s official!

Social media has now risen above newspapers as a source of news for Americans. In a recent study released by Pew Research Center, 20% of American adults now turn to social media to get news compared to the 16% who get their news through newspapers.

Past studies show the steady decline and the steady increase (respectively) of both platforms with 20% of Americans turning to newspaper while 18% turn to social media last 2016.

Why is Social Media More Preferred?

With the steady increase of the percentages, it is good to look at why Americans now prefer social media over newspapers.

Let’s look at some of the possible reasons why people now turn to social media.

Social Media is handy

With more and more people on the go, social media provides a convenient way for them to multitask.

Unlike newspapers that you have to bring everywhere with you, checking news in social media doesn’t give you an additional load to carry. With just your phone and some clicks, you can read news wherever you are comfortable.

It provides real time updates

Social media can give you real time updates compared to other news sources like radio and television. As for the newspaper, it would take a day for you to get the news of yesterday. So, when it comes to timeliness, newspaper is at a disadvantage.

Details about a certain news story can easily be posted in social media so people get much more complete details in that platform. The processing of the details is fast, so people can get the information they want in just a short time.

It is more participatory

Social media provides a platform for ordinary citizens to create their own news stories. In fact, social media has infiltrated traditional platforms because segments of viral videos or citizen contributions are already part of a news program.

Also, people want a rawer and a less curated kind of news. With fellow citizens uploading photos or videos of what’s happening, they feel more authenticity when they see it.

Social Media Makes Past News Accessible

It’s also faster to search for previous news stories in social media. You even have the choice to save or bookmark it, so you can read it later. By just typing some keywords, it is easier for you to locate certain news stories.

Unlike newspapers, you’d have to scan through mountains of pages before you can re-read the article that you want. As for television and radio, there’s no way to see or hear what was previously broadcasted (unless it is uploaded in social media)

With social media, people can easily go back to previous news articles that they want to read.

Challenges in Social Media as a News Source

Social Media as a news source do not come without some challenges. Outlined below are some of the challenges we experience with social media being a news source.

Spread of Disinformation

Social media has democratized the access of information to people. It also gave people the power to create their own media content.

As this might be a good sign of a healthy participatory environment, some people are taking advantage of social media to spread disinformation.

Merriam Webster Dictionary defined disinformation as a “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”

Unlike misinformation, people who spread disinformation have the intention to alter the truth and spread lies and deceit.

Difficult to control who posts what

With everyone exercising their freedom of expression, it would be difficult to control what gets posted on social media.

What people don’t realize is that freedom of expression comes with responsibility. People must bear in mind that social media is a public space and it must be occupied with caution and responsibility.

The Rise of Fake News

Related to the spread of disinformation is the spread of fake news. A lot of websites have been created to be a vehicle of fake news.

Some fake news sites pretend to be legitimate news sources. As social media is a platform for fast and easy access to news, it also entails verification especially if the source comes from a shady account or website.

Some news stories do not undergo editing

Accuracy is very important in news stories. However, with the fast-paced expectation of audiences, some news organizations removed some editing layer and allow their reporters to post directly to their websites.

Accuracy is far more important than speed. Even legitimate news organizations experience these lapses.

As journalists, they must always be reminded of accuracy as a guiding principle of journalism. The need to be fast should not weigh more compared to the accuracy of the news report.

Ethics and Professionalism

Ethics is one of the guiding foundations of journalism.

It is something that is difficult to impose to everybody using social media. People must bear in mind that news reporting is not similar to posting ordinary posts.

Let’s take for example gore images of an accident. Someone within the proximity took pictures and posted it in social media (because, you know, be there when it happens as it happens).

People might be too overwhelmed about participating in the news reporting process but what people should understand is that news reporting is not a mere reportage of events.

In journalism ethics, gore images must be blurred or taken in angles where it doesn’t look too bad. We should consider the family of the victim. If you were in their place, you wouldn’t want to see your loved one in that situation. We have this thing called respect.

Media Literacy: Protect Yourself from These Challenges

Media literacy is not limited to knowing how to use gadgets for media use.

It also involves being able to see through the messages that you receive – both from fake and legitimate news sources.

The information we receive from social media constructs our meaning structures which in turn guides us in decisions that we make every day.

It can be as simple as deciding on how to act upon the news that you consume and as complicated as influencing your perception about things.

To illustrate, let’s say someone posted a fake news about the latest weather disturbance saying that it will not hit your area. If you do not verify the information, you might be caught off guard and won’t be able to prepare for the looming disaster.

It can also be as complicated as media creating images as a representation for certain group of people (i.e. Muslims). If one is not media literate, they might fall for the trap of believing that these images are reality. For example, if Muslims are portrayed to be terrorists, you will most likely believe that they are. But are they really terrorists?

That’s the importance of Media Literacy. It helps you see beyond the media messages fed to you. Once you are media literate, it would be easier for you to choose what information is true and what is not.

With the democratized nature of social media, it pays to be media literate, so you won’t be a victim of deception and lies.

Social Media as a Source of News: Good or Bad?

We can see how the purpose of social media has evolved over time. It used to be just a platform to bridge distance between people. It also served as a platform for self-expression.

But as its popularity grows, its uses grow along with it. Social media has become a platform for business, giving opportunities by providing people an affordable space where they can sell their products.

And now, officially, it has over taken newspapers as a news source. More than these figures and officiality, we must ask: is this good or bad?

The discussion above shows that social media both has the potential and pitfalls as a news source.

Unlike connection and self-expression, social media as a news source brings along with it some responsibility. As a news source, information written in the news articles are mostly taken to be true.

As news organizations turn to social media for faster dissemination of information, there are also those who take advantage of social media to spread lies and deception.

That’s why, it always helps to arm ourselves with media literacy so we can continue to maximize the potentials of social media as a platform.

Social Media as a news source is a welcome development. It is a realm of increased audience participation and provides wider reach for information of dissemination.

As a platform that can be used for democracy, we must not allow people with bad intentions to take these platforms away from us. We shouldn’t allow their ill intentions to take over the positive potentials social media has for everyone.

With the steady increase of social media, it is foreseen that the gap between social media and newspaper will widen in the future. It even has the potential to overtake other social media platforms.

As the famous saying goes “With great power, comes great responsibility.” With social media’s power, each of us has a responsibility to consume and contribute to it responsibly.

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