News of the World

News of the World

News is an incredibly important part of our everyday lives and it draws from our innate instinct to spread information by word of mouth to warn those close to us about potential dangers. Where we get our news from is changing; newspapers have been in great decline and a 2016 study by PEW research centre found that 62% of adults use social media as a source of news with 18% saying they use it “often”. That means almost 1 in 5 adult Americans use social media as their primary source of news. The study stated that Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr are the top four sources, with 70% of reddit users and 66% of Facebook users hailing it as their primary source. Crowdsourcing, where a large group of people contribute to a common agenda via the internet and social media, has become a new way for us to source news content. Individual user posts and pictures agglomerate to paint the whole picture of an event from all angles, resulting in a non-bias, informative and accurate story.

The power of social media has proved to be extremely influential because it gave everybody and anybody a voice, and people started to listen. The rise of social media and its influence on public mood and opinion is quite astonishing; the challenge presenting itself is how we can harness its influence to aid society?

In many ways, we should be thankful that the power has been stripped from many privatised news outlets and their owners. We have opened the gates to free-flowing information and now, we can choose what we read. Or at least that is what we thought was the case.

We have seen news change from appearing to be evidence-based reporting, to click bait and gossip. I had always thought the BBC news slogan was “Free, impartial and fair” apparently, it’s not, it’s “live the story”. What does that even mean? Fox news is no better, “Most watched, most trusted.” Are they really claiming that because they are the most watched gives them the title of most trusted…? To me it just sounds like a positive spin of “tell a lie enough times and it will eventually become truth”. I now realise that the channels haven’t changed, competition from social media has just forced them to show their true colours.

It’s thanks to other online forums, such as Reddit and Tumblr, providing crowd sourced news that has allowed us to see events for how they really are. This is where the true power of social media’s influence lies and demonstrates how it can be utilised.

Unfortunately, ‘fake news’ has shown the limitations of social media as a source of news. The viral spread of unverified sources during the last American election showed that users are quite happy to spread information without questioning its source. Herein lies the problem. The same study by PEW, mentioned earlier, found that 64% of users get their news from just a single site. Exacerbating the problem of fake news, it is easy for the virus to spread in a contained environment.

We need to move towards crowd sourced news that has a verification process on top of that which comes from the ‘crowd’. Facebook is now ‘fighting’ fake news with algorithms, however, those same algorithms still chose what we see on our feeds. Snapchat takes a different approach. Yesterday it was reported by the BBC that snapchat has an internal team whose purpose is to chase stories and verify their content; calling the local police for reports to back the story is an example of the techniques they use. This is much closer to traditional journalism with the added bonus of the topic and content being crowd sourced rather than the editor’s pick.

The road to cleansing our feeds of fake and overtly bias news is a long one. However, it is one that we are finally heading down. For us to reach the end, it will require a great effort from those in control at the big media companies right down to the individual users placing value in the validity of the content we read.

Author: Christopher Braithwaite

The founder of TMTalks, Christopher, is based in the United Kingdom and writes for the site in his free time. Particular areas of interest include Space, energy, cyber security and block-chain technology.

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