How has social media changed the way we participate in the news?

Picture the distribution of current events 60 years ago; you go to the store and purchase the only available newspaper in town. This newspaper only offers you a few select stories, nevertheless you continue to purchase this paper because it is the only way you can keep informed on happenings around the world. The spreading of news in the past could have been considered a passive relationship, with producers distributing information down to consumers in a linear formation. There was no option for the common citizen to instantly upload an essay or photo with their views on current world events. Today individuals are much more fortunate, as there has been a power shift from traditional producers, thereby creating an active relationship when it comes to citizens participating in the news. Whether the user is actively uploading information themselves or reading what others have posted, there is a large jump in the number of people who feel the need to become involved in today’s happenings. With a large number of individuals spreading updates of the world news there also come advances in technology that aids the distribution of such information. Multiple online platforms have been created to assist the public in their ongoing quest to share information around the world.

As advances in technology rapidly grows in today’s society, so does the number of ways in which we can spread the information we are receiving. Individuals have the ability to share current events as soon as they occur, rather than waiting for the newspaper to cover only one aspect of the story days after it has occurred. It’s becoming more uncommon for the average person to take the time to sit down and watch the television or read the newspaper when it comes to gaining knowledge of today’s world events. People turn to various online social mediums as a way of staying informed. Twitter is an excellent example of a social media platform largely used for the spreading of information. According to American Press Institute online article about 74% of users who use twitter for news do so daily. This means thousands of users are constantly checking and updating the site on current events happening around the world. In another online article by Pews Research Centre titled “How social media is reshaping news” the author discovers some extremely interesting facts about social media and its relationship with the news. The findings included the points that around 46% of people on social networking sites have discussed or shared a news event. Looking at this statistic, one can conclude that people are using these social media sites for more than just juvenile reasons such as sharing humorous videos or memes. This is the creation of a community who is striving to become more active and share relevant information with other users, eliminating a culture who was dependent on the professionals to provide information to the masses.

When the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting occurred tweets were sent out instantaneously; informing people all over the world of the events that were unfolding in the movie theater. Social media users were at an advantage, having first hand access to the news of the shooting before many others. Another perfect example of online mediums being ahead of regular news outlets is the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. An IT consultant in a small town called Abbottabad live tweeted the events as they happened, consequently releasing the information about the murder before the government had a chance to organize a press release. The masses went wild at the news of the death of the infamous terrorist, proving yet again that online participants can have a bigger impact on the spreading of current events than regular news outlets can. These digitally created media outlets have led to a more involved citizen when it comes to uploading and reading current events.

With technology in the fast lane of development, not only are there more platforms for news to be shared through, but with that comes a plethora of different news stories being available to the public as well. Before social media was created and used as a tool for informing the masses on current events, there was typically only a few sources that people could turn to. This lack of diversity when it came to information outlets often lead to the allowance of more biased opinions on world events. As one of the only news broadcaster in a town the newspaper had total control over what was printed; providing the reader little to no choice in what they were given to read. This small window of information was pragmatic to those coveting a more well-rounded view on the world. Today the online user now has the option to search google and find numerous articles each with a different angle on the same story. Individuals are more inclined to participate in what is happening around the world because they are no longer subjected to partial news stories that were typically prejudiced. American Press Institute delves into this creation of choice in their online article “The Personal News Cycle: How Americans choose to get their news.” The findings in this online piece states that not only do people have more options on how they consume news in terms of technological devices, but they also have numerous choices in terms of what news stories to read. According to the survey conducted by American Press Institute “Americans report using an average of between four and five sources.” These four or five sources can each contain different news stories with different opinions thus giving the reader a more developed view of the world’s events. A perfect example of this is looking at the political debate currently happening in the United States. When you search the presidential candidates, you may find news stories either in support or against them. By simply entering the names of the contenders online you are given the option of cultivating an opinion on the presidential race yourself. 30 years ago, you may have only received one newspaper in your town; if that newspaper was in favor of the Democratic party there was a higher chance the information you were receiving was going to be biased, therefore there is a large possibility your political beliefs will be Democratic. With today’s technology you can search Hillary Clinton and find both good and bad articles about the Democratic candidate. The average social media user may now decide what to read from a range of topics, acquiring a developed framework of ideas & attitudes.

As mentioned above, social media has allowed users to become immensely more involved when it comes to the news. The ownership of cell phones and laptops gives way to an entirely creative means of news to be created. Suddenly ordinary citizens are given the opportunity to become politically involved in today’s world events; no longer dependent on professional journalism to deliver breaking news. This new-found opportunity has coined the term citizen journalism; this includes the amateur videos and photographs of world events individuals upload onto social media. Citizen journalism keeps the public informed first hand on events happening around the world. Often the content shared by these journalists has been more informative and up to date than the information distributed by professional journalism. The Huffington Post discusses citizen journalism quite well in their online article “How Social Media Is Supporting a Fundamental Shift in Journalism.” Jayson DeMers examines the effectiveness of social media in terms of this new era of journalism, claiming “the immediacy of information” is encouraging to those witnessing world events. Knowing that the information they upload will be seen immediately promotes citizen journalism. This new communication tool gives people a new sense of power when it comes to the political events happening around them, these people now have a voice thanks to social media. For more information on citizen journalism The Guardian studies the rise of journalism and its effects on professional journalism more in depth in this online article.

Figure 2, Free Palestine, Source: Flickr.com

An excellent example of social media giving people the upper hand in terms of journalism is looking at the uprisings in Egypt and Turkey; formerly known as the Arab Spring. Twitter was a vital part of the revolution that took place in the middle east; with protesters turning to the online platform as a way of organizing meetings and spreading information about the ongoing events to the rest of the world. In a specific Policy Mic online article titled “Twitter Revolution: How the Arab Spring Was Helped By Social Media” the author analyzes the significance of twitter when it came to giving the people of the Arab Spring the voice they deserved in a culture that had silenced them for too long. In the article, it is discussed that social media brought the people of the revolution together; giving them a safe place to band together to overthrow the dictator government that had been forced upon them for countless years. Twitter gave these people a sense of community with one another, allowing them to feed off each others hunger for freedom. People organized and mobilized protests, gaining movement with the masses. It can be ascertained that social media played a key part in the events that occurred during the Arab Spring. It is interesting to wonder how differently the proceedings would have happened had the rebellious citizens not had these online tools to aid them in their fight for freedom.

Should you choose to analyze the ways social media has influenced the way individuals have participated in the news you will find countless examples, such as the ones mentioned above, on ways the internet has triggered changes. It is up to you to decide whether you view these consequences as either a positive or negative impact on the world depending on which end of the spectrum you are. As a regular citizen, you may see these changes as beneficial to you; social media allows you the power to create a voice and be heard. On the contrary, if you are part of the printing press era you may perceive this movement as the end of professional writing; with inexperienced people trying their hand at the news. Whatever your beliefs on this may be, there is one point you cannot deny; social media have put news on the fast track and you can only expect more progressive changes as time goes on.