Opinion: How social media has changed the way we consume news

Taron Masi, Online Editor

There are approximately 3.03 billion active social media users worldwide. That’s close to half of the entire population. Because of the emergence of social media sites, online news consumption has risen. The Pew Research Center found in a recent survey that close to two-thirds of the American population use social media outlets as their main source of news.

The growth of social media networks has fundamentally changed the landscape of news consumption. Social media is no longer just a marketing tool; it is now a place where audiences get news content.

Consumers have been forced to come to terms with the new 24-hour news cycle. It gives people easy access to news whenever they want, but also serves as an outlet to anyone wanting to share their opinion and present it as fact.

In many ways, social media has replaced “serious” news with what is trending or viral. The Pew Research Center also found that readers, on average, are spending a maximum of 57 seconds on online news articles. Which means news consumers are more likely to be interested in the title of an article and not set on reading the entirety of the article.

This social media takeover of the news has led to growing popularity of biased news outlets like “Buzzfeed” and “Reddit”. They are beginning to be compared to more reliable sources for news like “The Washington Post” or “National Public Radio”.

Something to also take note of are the algorithms used on popular search engines that track the patterns of a user’s internet activity and use the information to constantly redirect the user to sites they’re interested in. This causes people to become less inclined to read multiple sides to one story and often settle with a bias news source.

Politicians use social media platforms to inform constituents about their policies on a regular basis. Candidates post their opinions about various forms of social media. These opinions, therefore, go directly to the public, bypassing news outlets altogether. Currently, there aren’t many restrictions on what exactly politicians can say on their accounts, so it leaves them open to saying just about anything.

One example of how social media can become a conflict of interest has to do with President Donald Trump. In the past two years, some confusion has occurred on whether Trump’s personal Twitter account is what President Trump is saying or citizen Trump. Twitter itself is rather unprecedented for a president—it had never been a factor before 2015, when former President Barack Obama received a Twitter account dedicated exclusively to the president.

So what does the future look like for journalism?

Now that websites and social media apps are constantly replacing more traditional news sources like the radio, newspaper and tv broadcasting, the future for journalistic integrity looks bleak.

It is still unsure on how journalists should best approach social media and if it can eventually become beneficial for traditional news outlets.

One thing readers can do to ensure they are consuming the most reliable news possible is Identify respectable sources of information—and then support those organizations as their primary sources of news and information. Once their mission and motivations are known, its becomes possible to hold the source accountable to present the most accurate information possible.