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Social Media and the News: What does your News-feed you?


Have you ever stopped to think what kind of news is coming up on your social media?

It’s been made clear in the past that misleading headlines can have a huge impact on us; not just on whether we do or don’t decide to read more on a subject, but also how we read and how we feel about a subject as a result of it. The semantics alone are enough to affect us subconsciously. We should be aware of the kind of messages that we expose ourselves too…

The average person now spends around an hour and forty minutes on social media a day. As a nation most of us are well aware of the influence that media has on us – now the influence of social media has also become very real and tangible. Like a great deal many things in our now tech-heavy lifestyle, social media has had a huge impact on many aspects of our lives, and not least the kind of news stories that we are exposed to.

Breaking News and Social Networks

Social media deserves to be given it’s due when it comes to news. The rate at which information can be spread globally on networks is utterly unsurpassable by other, traditional news outlets. Social media has the ability to inspire both online and real-life conversations, so breaking news can reach even those who aren’t active users by influencing those who are and encouraging them to share it with their immediate peers.

Consider some of the biggest news stories of the last decade – the discovery of ice on Mars, the Aurora movie shooting, the death of Michael Jackson – all of these stories broke and were spread globally in a matter of moments due to social media.

Comment and Opinion on Social Media

Perhaps one of the main reasons why more and more people are looking to social networking as a primary resource for news is down to the reactionary opportunities that these platforms provide. While not all stories are enough provoke a response from everyone, as soon as they are exposed to something they deem important, users want to be able to actively participate in responding to it. They want to be ‘part of the story’ as it were.

Social platforms are a unique mix of information, entertainment and communication. Users are fully aware of each network’s capabilities and because of this, when presented with information that resonates with them, they are no longer content to be a member of a passive audience. Consider the Paris attacks. BBC news have usefully put together this handy article on exactly how it all unfolded on Social Media. This is a perfect example of how social media users became instrumental in the unfolding of a news event.

This kind of user involvement is called Prosumerism, a theory that dictates that people are now not merely consuming information, but contributing to it. At any rate, social media has created a stage for any Tom, Dick or Harry to become a fully-fledged current affairs commentator. In the grand scheme of things this can only be good news for free speech and better understanding among the global community, but it’s the dissemination of quality information from the deceptive that represents the biggest challenge.

Messages can become Confused and Distorted

The problem with this style of communication of information is our human tendency to forget to look at the bigger picture. We can’t help it – it’s in our nature. If something moves us to respond in a certain way we go ahead and do that because we care about that particular thing. Getting passionate about something needn’t always be negative but we can all benefit from double checking our sources (and in the case of social media, our sources’ sources) otherwise messages can become confused and distorted.

Our social networks could have a far better impact on our lives and eventually serve a much bigger purpose if we all took those steps. And let’s note that it isn’t enough to be passive towards ignorant or misguided views on social networking – we all have a duty to call that out. For more on that check out our article on how social media could change the world.

The Issue with Trending News

Trending news is based on what others deem as important. Computers recognise that more-or-less by registering the amount of attention a link has commanded. So it stands to reason that not everything that has been recognised as “deemed as important” has actually been deemed as important by anybody. Thankfully algorithm’s are constantly being worked on to try and improve user experience, but you really don’t have to look far before something ludicrous has popped up.

Trending news can be both a blessing and a curse, depending on the strength of a clickbait writer’s capacity for misdirection. That little bar on the right-hand side of Facebook, and also Twitter’s ‘Moments’ tab, can help users to discover seriously newsworthy articles – but if you’re not careful they can also end up making your news feed look more like a cattle trough full of manure.

Working Towards More Reputable News on Social Media

Misleading news articles and sensationalist headlines simply aren’t the sort of messages that you should allow yourself to be exposed to – so how do we deal with it? For starters, try to be savvy with recognising the semantics of titles. What kind of response are the words used trying to get from you? For example, if something says “This happened, and you probably didn’t even know about it…” it could be guilt or anger, depending on the nature of the supposed thing that happened. If you’re aware of it you can then read knowing you won’t accidentally feel it.

Check the sources. Facebook has data – lots of it. So much that it can be difficult for them to know what really is good news content and what’s plain viral rubbish. Be willing to give Facebook feedback about viral posts. If enough people let them know that something isn’t worthy to be considered trending then that will eventually rank lower in other people’s feeds.

If you really want to help work towards encouraging more reputable news on Social Media, then you need to be active. Curate reliable news sources. Encourage people to share newsworthy, engaging content from trustworthy websites. Call out the inappropriate and downright ludicrous. And always ensure you’ve understood the bigger picture.

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