Increasingly, people are getting their news from social media. But, is this good or bad?
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2016, 35 percent of people between ages 18 and 29 said that social media was the “most helpful” source of information about the presidential campaign. For those aged 30 to 49 it was only 15 percent who found social media most helpful.
In addition to this demographic shift toward social media is information from the Media Insight Project which shows that people tend to trust articles shared on Facebook more from people than from news organizations or institutions. And, also, a recent study by Eschelon Insights and Hart Research found adults ages 18 to 49 trust news and political information shared from “friends” more than news delivered from other sources.
Does this mean that social media is destroying the news? No, it turns out that it is not. Social media has actually allowed access to more information sources than ever. As The Denver Post put it, “Eyewitnesses to breaking news can tweet pictures from scenes, when professional journalists aren’t always present. People who are victims of oppressive regimes can publish text, videos and photos from the world’s conflict zones instantaneously, bearing witness as citizen journalists and allowing the masses to see and consume history, unfiltered.”
All this bodes well for news. However, a recent study by Axios cited in The Denver Post, shows that digital technology (analytics) has made it easier to take advantage of existing political divisions, which in turn has caused a massive increase in partisan news sites in the last twenty-five years. The study also found that news sites are financially incentivized to tilt one way or another. So, instead of exposing viewers to differing points of view, these algorithms might be showing them more of what they want to see, playing to their basic instincts.
Added to the credibility concerns and the “bubbles” of filtered information one can get trapped within when just listening to “friends,” social media has created a revenue problem for “traditional” news. Local newspapers are in financial jeopardy and most are fighting for their lives. The problem is that digital ad revenue does not make up for the decline in print advertising. In 2015, Facebook and Google accounted for 75 percent of all new digital advertising dollars. In the first quarter of 2016, 85 cents of every new digital ad dollar was going to those two companies -- leaving all other news organizations to fight over the last 15 cents.
The news business can’t afford to ignore a platform like Facebook, where 44 percent of Americans get news. The Denver Post’s Facebook pages have over 720,000 fans, which is greater than their print subscription ever was. Content published by their main Facebook page reaches 2 million people weekly. Social media accounts for roughly 20 percent of their referral traffic each month, 80 percent of which comes from Facebook. “We’re reaching more people than we ever have in our organization’s 125-year history,” says The Denver Post’s senior editor Daniel Petty. “We don’t have an audience problem; we have a revenue problem.”
There is no doubt that news consumers are shifting to social media; and with that comes two concerns: one is for the credibility of the news and the second is for the revenue which funds local outlets. More and more viewers will be social media consumers, which means that in order for local and traditional sources to remain solvent, they may have to tilt toward their viewers’ “Likes”; and if that happens without transparency, then the ability of any news organization to deliver bi-partisan views will be put into question.
Keeping the news independant, a trusted and factual source of information, is essential for democracy which girds free enterprise. Allowing technology to flourish is also vital for the country. Both must be protected -- and both must be kept in check -- so that they may in tandem, function as they should: the press delivering the facts and technology providing better opportunities to use these facts for the benefit of us all.
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Author: Mike Emerton, Founder, BridgeView Marketing