World Association of News Publishers

Social Media; Social Influencer?

Social Media; Social Influencer?

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Rolling news formats, comments sections and “like” buttons to click – these features have all become the norm when it comes to digesting the news in the digital age. How is the increasing popularity of social media affecting how we read the news?


By Colette Davidson

Accessing social media has become ubiquitous for most digital users around the world – no matter their social or economic background, age or cultural upbringing. From Australia and South Africa to New York and Berlin, having a Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat account is now a normal part of daily life.

But as social media use rises around the world, how are traditional news sources reacting to the changes that this phenomenon ultimately brings? While some have insisted on staying true to their roots, a majority have adopted blog-style formats or incorporated “like” buttons and comments sections. Others have seen the digital transformation as an opportunity, creating news sites that either resemble a social media website or act as an aggregate for the best of what can be found online.

According to a 2018 report on social media use in the United States by the Pew Research Center, roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults (68 percent) are Facebook users, with three-quarters accessing the site on a daily basis. Around 78 percent of 18-24 year-olds use Snapchat, while 71 percent and 45 percent of people in this age group use Instagram and Twitter, respectively.

Facebook still has the strongest overall usage of any site, with around 170 million users in Europe in 2018, according to Statistica. The social media giant has grown its user base in Africa to 170 million, with a 42 percent growth in monthly active users sine 2015. And in Southeast Asia, more than 300 million people use Facebook on a regular basis, with Indonesia showing the highest rates of users in the region.

The success of Facebook and other social media sites has been seen in both developed and developing nations. The Philippines has been said to be the social media capital of the world, primarily due to the ubiquity of social media platforms for those who have access to the internet, says Danilo Arao, Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of the Philippines Diliman. All of this, despite having the slowest internet connection and most expensive Internet rates in the region.

“Many Filipinos, especially youth, are able to access Facebook mainly due to the ‘free data’ and other social media packages provided by telecommunications companies engaged in mobile telephony,” says Arao. “It follows that Filipinos, especially those in urban areas, are able to access social media platforms, especially Facebook, through their mobile phones.”

With so many users adept at using social media, it’s no wonder that news websites have jumped on the bandwagon – giving users what they have become familiar with but threatening the staying power of traditional news sites. In the Philippines, Arao says that the dominant news organizations have adapted to the popularity of social media, redesigning their websites to include “like” buttons and a blog-style look and feel. Online publication Rappler is one such news outlet that has embraced the success of social media, branding itself as a social media news source.

Likewise, in the U.S. and Europe, sites like Mashable, Reddit, Flipboard and The Huffington Post have thrived by becoming places where readers can find the best of social media trends. Meanwhile others, like Newsvine, have taken to assembling the most read articles from traditional news sources in an easy-to-use, clickable style.

But social media has not only affected how news sources adapt to the way readers want their news – it has also become one of the most popular places to find news in the first place. With Facebook’s high penetration rate worldwide – there were over 2 billion monthly active users at the end of 2017 – it’s no wonder it has had a powerful effect on how users read the news.

Annika Bergstrom, a senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, says that, as is the case in many countries, two-thirds of young people in Sweden get their news from social media sites – ultimately more common than those going directly to news sites. But as social media sites like Facebook become more intuitive about what types of news stories pop up on individual feeds, there is an increased risk of creating echo chambers that preach to the choir and encourage confirmation bias.

“I’m not very fond of the filter bubble idea,” says Bergstrom. “In the end, we know very little about how people engage with the news. Do they really click on an article or just read the headline? An article can be shared a million times but very few have actually read it.”

Bergstrom says social media also heightens the risk of fake news and its circulation, as readers may not verify sources or have the dependability that traditional news outlets can offer.

“Readers need to apply strategies when reading things on social media, like asking yourself why a person is sharing something and if they have an agenda,” says Bergstrom. “It starts in school. We need to teach kids to be critical of sources.”

As the challenges rise in how to better inform readers not only of the news but how to read that news, conventional news outlets have the task of either moving with the social media tide or remaining steadfast in their dedication to tradition. Meanwhile, researchers continue to study how readers use social media to get their news and its powerful influence in our daily lives.

“Social media is useful in disseminating information but it could also be a bane for those who use social media just to get attention or validation for their real-life actions,” says Arao. “I think all of us, especially youth, should rethink how we use social media and how we lead our lives.

We should not think in terms of social media projection as it could only result in an individualist, careerist perspective, compromising what should be an organized, cause-oriented one if we want to effect genuine change in society.”


Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop


2018-03-29 10:07

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