With over 2 billion active users worldwide, social media has become ubiquitous. The Internet’s visionary promise of a “world wide web” that creates a data rich virtual directory of people, groups and organizations, has come into being through social media. Roughly 64.5 percent of these 2 billion active users receive breaking news from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, and Instagram, instead of traditional media. As with every new technology, this has had both positive and negative effects. Executive Producer and experienced media and communications manager, Gary LaPlante, took the time to share his expertise on the impacts social media is placing on the news-cycle.
Social Media’s Impact
If the 2016 U.S. presidential election tells us anything, it is that social media can have a major influence on public opinion. Social media acts as a glue for like-minded people, and can reinforce confirmation bias, which has led to both positive and negative results. In an effort to find an online community or tribe, many people live in echo chambers, which helps individuals to narrow their interests quickly and connect with others who share those beliefs. Gary LaPlante explains that one of the primary forms of media shared on social media platforms, especially Facebook, is news. Not only are the major players of the world, including the BBC, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and more, jumping online, but other indie news outlets are making an appearance as never before possible, like Vice News and the Philip DeFranco show.
Gary LaPlante shares that one of the issues associated with breaking news being discovered primarily on social media platforms is that, while they direct traffic to legitimate news outlets (one study found a 57% increase in traffic to news sites referred to by social media), there is also a tendency to read only the headline or watch a short video clip. An average visitor will only read an article for 15 seconds or less, and the average video watch time online is 10 seconds. Additionally, social media tends to target a more generalized audience, whereas traditional news is generally more targeted.
These new forms of reporting have changed the industry entirely. Gary LaPlante explains that traditional news coverage used to require prerequisites, experience, and training, it was a job that relied on a network and specific journalistic standard being met. Today, all you need is a Ring Light and a video camera, and you are ready to report. The danger of this style of reporting is the inability to be held to a specific standard, or requirement of ensuring information is accurate and unbiased. However, it has also democratized news reporting, allowing various new opinions, angles, and perspectives to be taken into consideration. Consider Vice News, for example, which produces daily documentary essays and videos through its website and YouTube channel. They promote themselves on the coverage of ‘under-reported stories’; these stories cover everything from Haitian zombies to the scientific study of psychedelic drugs as a cure for depression. Without an outlet like Vice News, it is unlikely you would ever hear about it these stories on traditional outlets like BBC or CBC.
Additionally, timely and sensationalized news tends to favor better among users, the more easily shareable and likeable content is, the more likely it is to be shared. This has also led to the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. Due to an oversaturation of content online, it only goes without saying that users are less inclined to spend too much time on any one thing.
Gary LaPlante’s Final Thoughts
Social media has revolutionized the way that consumers are receiving and viewing their news. Gary LaPlante has noticed a trend in doctored news that has zero fact-based information that spreads virally through social media and worries that consumers will continue to report on and share false information. Social media reporting news has the power to reach massive populations and the quality of what is being reporting needs to increase to fact-based reporting.