News and Social Media; Where We Are Today and What It Means For Us

According to Galen Stocking of the Pew Research Center, “roughly nine-in-ten adults (93%) ever get news online (either via mobile or desktop)”.

Mitchell et al’s (2013) survey “provides evidence that Facebook exposes some people to news who otherwise might not get it”. Facebook is usually turned to as a source for immediate and breaking news, but there are consequences for turning to this social media platform in ways people may not be thinking about. Whether we like it or not, Facebook is one of the main purveyors of news information in the digital age of today. Even if people don’t depend on Facebook as a news source, it is usually the first thing people look at in the morning and the last thing they look at at night. With the amount of fake news circulating through social media, especially through the 2016 election, it is easy to see why readers may be mislead or have feelings of distrust towards what is online and in our news. It can also be frustrating with those who produce newsworthy content, as they are battling with ‘trolls’ and people distributing false information. The responsibility to improve this issue lies not just with readers and social media users, but the platforms and media this occurs on.

What does one do when the very President of the United States can redefine truth and hard evidence as “alternative fact”? This threatens the very ideologies of democracy, as Farhad Manjoo and his colleague, Thomas B. Edsall, of The New York Times report, (which can be found here http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/29/the-future-of-free-speech-trolls-anonymity-and-fake-news-online/). It leads to those readers, who find this absolutely ridiculous, to take on the responsibility of finding their own factual sources. Regardless, a May 2016 study with Pew Research Centre showed “62% of Americans get their news from social media” (Rainie, Anderson, Albright, (2017). Whether it’s fair or not for citizens to have to fight for hard, scientific evidence no longer matters. Users must be aware to what extent their news on Facebook is being manipulated and curated every day. Nunez (2016) writes that “Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential ‘trending’ news section”. Those readers who depend on just social media as their news source are getting their news from news curators, who, as Nunez (2016) continues to describe, are people instructed to “artificially ‘inject’ selected stories into the trending news module, even if they weren’t popular enough to warrant inclusion — or in some cases weren’t trending at all”. In other words, the information people are getting from platforms such as Facebook are filtered and imposed on users. It is disturbing to think that all of society’s eggs are in the basket of one organization, who obviously denies all allegations of bias, and who can determine what stories people are reading whenever they feel like it. Facebook: if you can create algorithms that produce trending topics naturally, then have a team of curators to artificially inject stories into the media despite these computerized algorithms, you can hire a team to filter the algorithms you apparently now use to filter fake news.

How do news organizations battle this? Already, news organizations do not have a lot of funds, and the Internet, combined with this “post-fact” age, is calling for a complete reorganization of the news industry. Gottfried and Shearer (2017), who analyzed data from not even a year ago, reported that “43% of Americans report often getting news online, just 7 percentage points lower than the 50% who often get news on television”, particularly because older Americans are now turning more and more to online news. In fact, upon further investigation, this population is driven by Americans who are “older, less educated, and nonwhite”. More on Gottfried and Shearer’s research on who’s getting what from what social media platforms can be found here; http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/07/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2017/, but needless to say, the population must rely on multiple sources nowadays in order to trust and understand what is going on in the world.

News organizations are not just battling the digital age, but users themselves; those who are defined as ‘trolls’ are characterized by online behaviour that can include, but not limited to, “profanity and name-calling to personal attacks, sexual harassment or hate speech” (Cheng, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Bernstein, 2017). The rise of the troll was inevitable; “anonymity, a key affordance of the early internet, is an element that many in this canvassing attributed to enabling bad behaviour and facilitating ‘uncivil discourse’ in shared online spats” (Raine, Anderson, Albright, 2017). Rainie, Anderson, and Albright (2017) also found that “scholars provided evidence showing that social bots were implemented in acts aimed at disrupting the 2016 U.S. presidential election… news organizations documented how foreign trolls bombarded U.S. social media with fake news.” But trolls are not just foreign, they can be anyone from a sociopath to just the average Joe waking up on the wrong side of the bed, as Cheng, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, and Bernstein’s 2017 research shows. For more information on the two key factors that lead ‘ordinary’ people to troll, visit their research at http://www.businessinsider.com/find-out-why-any-of-us-are-capable-of-trolling-2017-3. These trolls are not exercising their freedom of speech, but rather participating in removing the entire country of democratic freedoms and misinforming the public.

Where does this leave us now? Cheng, Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, and Bernstein (2017) claim we can fight back against trolls through machine learning algorithms, create social interventions, prioritize constructive comments over trolling comments, etc. Moreover, we need to demand more action from platforms such as Google and Facebook to take proper steps in being democratic platforms for news, or not offering any news at all. Readers need to double check their sources before they share articles, and critically think about where the articles are coming from and who is writing them. News organizations need to triple check and make available all of their sources before sharing them, as they can affect people’s lives, like with Tom Petty and his family. Most importantly, if our own governments won’t take action against trolls and fake news, then who will?

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All statistics, data and information were recovered from the following references:

Cheng, J., Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, C., & Bernstein, M. (2017, March 02). Why people troll, according to science. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from http://www.businessinsider.com/ find-out-why-any-of-us-are-capable-of-trolling-2017-3

Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E. (2017, September 07). Americans’ online news use is closing in on TV news use. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/07/americans-online-news-use-vs-tv- news-use/

Mitchell, A., Kiley, J., Gottfried, J., & Guskin, E. (2013, October 24). The Role of News on Facebook. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from http://www.journalism.org/2013/10/24/the- role-of-news-on-facebook/

Nunez, M. (2016, May 09). Former Facebook Workers: We Routinely Suppressed Conservative News. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from https://gizmodo.com/former-facebook- workers-we-routinely-suppressed-conser-1775461006

Rainie, L., Anderson, J., & Albright, J. (2017, March 29). The Future of Free Speech, Trolls, Anonymity and Fake News Online. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from http:// www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/29/the-future-of-free-speech-trolls-anonymity-and-fake- news-online/

Stocking, G. (2017, August 07). Digital News Fact Sheet. Retrieved October 09, 2017, from http://www.journalism.org/fact-sheet/digital-news/

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