According to a recent study, more than 60% of Millenials get their news from Facebook. It makes sense that the generation raised on technology is comfortable turning to it for their news, but they’re not the only ones doing so.
Other major demographic groups, including the Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, are also getting their news via social media in large percentages, with just over 50% and almost 40% respectively.
So what does millions of people using social media as a primary news source mean? In addition to the general public being able to participate in breaking news from both a reporting and learning standpoint, social media sites are also catching on to their role in the news and adjusting their platforms accordingly.
Public participation in the news
With access to news sites and reporters (amateur or professional), as well as a personal platform always at your fingertips, it’s easy to get involved with the news.
Social media news-sharing is more than just a way to find and read new stories. It enables users to be a part of the process. For instance, Twitter’s microblogging platform can be a place to break news in real-time – with or without knowing it.
Four years ago, a Pakistani man took to the site to talk about the helicopter sounds he heard from his home, not knowing at the time he was also live-tweeting the death of Osama bin Laden. It took a bit longer for journalism sources to fact-check and confirm details before releasing the story, but Twitter users didn’t need that level of professionalism, and the news spread throughout the country and the world in 140-character snippets.
Social media is changing how news is gathered too. It can be used to compile evidence to refute or support claims. With billions of time-stamped photos, messages, videos and more, anyone can collect the information they need for a story.
Earlier this year, the group of soldiers who had been in Iraq with news anchor Brian Williams in 2003, used social media to refute false reports he had made about an incident that occurred there – false reports that eventually led to the public revocation of his (until then) unimpeachable journalistic credibility.
New York Times reporter, Ravi Somaiya, writes Williams’s fall from grace “began with [the soldiers’]Facebook comments, was amplified by Twitter and reached a crescendo as amateur sleuths took to YouTube to fact-check Mr. Williams’s reporting.” The soldiers didn’t have a journalism background, and they didn’t need one; all they needed was the evidence and a global platform to spark interest and reveal the truth.
Social media sites are aware of their role in the news
Well-known sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter recognize the part they play in delivering the news to and from users and are adjusting their sites accordingly.
Instagram recently released an update that includes a new “current events” section. The picture-sharing app and website understands social media users’ desire to be a part of events as they’re happening, and Instagram will now give them access to thousands of real-time photos and videos, plus, the ability to reach a worldwide audience with the images they capture.
The update rolls out an “Explore” button that “will show users the most important photos from events and places in their regions across the country,” according to New York Times reporter Vindu Goel. With an easy-to-use search bar and personalized compilations of pictures and videos, Instagram users can feel more in touch with the news they’re interested in.
For the past several years, Facebook newsfeeds have evolved to show users relevant information. The site algorithms take in to account your likes and dislikes, friends and posts you comment on or hide from view to show you stories it thinks you’re most interested in. Now the site is going another step further to deepen its understanding of what users want.
Kathleen Chaykowski at Forbes reported “now, more actions that we take when watching a video, such as turning on sound or playing in full screen or high definition will affect the videos we see.”
Twitter offers an easy way of searching current stories with hashtags and trending topics. Its fast reaction time and wide audience contribute to the site’s ability to spread news quickly throughout the world. Reporters and the general public can all benefit from Twitter as a news source. Newscasters turn to Twitter to get closer to their audience and find leads for their stories while the social networks rely on these sites for the news.
Social media sites are here to stay. And with over half of its users sharing news on their accounts in 2014, a number that has likely increased today – it’s clear it will continue to reshape and revolutionize our media landscape for years to come.