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Social Media as a Source of News

How often have you logged onto a social media website and seen an item of news being shared on the homepage? Social media is increasingly becoming a way for people to share news stories both as first-hand accounts and to relay news articles they have found interesting to those in their social network. A new study by Reuters Institute Digital Report found that 43 per cent of Britons between the ages of 16 and 24 are much more likely to access news through social networks rather than through search engines. The key findings of the study were that “news is becoming more mobile, more social, and more real-time” with digital patterns of news access becoming more entrenched particularly amongst the younger half of the population. How can the use of social media change the way that news stories are spread?




The Reuters study found that there is a significant generational difference, with social media rated as being more important than search engines amongst the ‘under 45s’. However, among the ‘over 45s’ in the UK, only 9% think that social media is an important way of finding news. This is an unsurprising trend, as younger people tend to spend a lot more time on social media and, with a greater number of contacts in their network, the information that they share will receive a greater following and be more likely to develop a discussion.


Image - Reuters


One of the reasons why people enjoy posting about interesting news stories on their own social media profiles is because many people enjoy engaging in debate, and discussing the important impact of certain items of news. A social media network therefore provides a ready-made group of people with whom you can spark off comment about certain news stories. The study by Reuters also found that commenting on a news story via a social network was more common among the Spanish (27%), Italians (26%) and the Americans (21%) who were twice as likely to comment on a news story via a social network as the British (10%).



Social media can also be a very effective way of spreading news information virally and in an instantaneous manner. Twitter is an increasingly important social network for spreading this kind of information, with users such as BBC Breaking News having over 7 million followers. However, Twitter can also have a substantial impact for the general user who may be able to report on breaking news reports if they were there at the time of it happening. This has led to the advent of a form of ‘civilian journalism’ with new forms of media taking over. A good example of this was the New York plane crash in the Hudson River, where Twitter users were able to break the news of the incident almost 15 minutes before the mainstream media was able to alert viewers about the crash. The first tweet that went out was by Jim Hanrahan , who wrote: “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive[r] in manhattan”. However, it wasn’t this tweet that went viral but a tweet from Janis Krums who also posted an image of the passengers being rescued from the drowned plane alongside the text, “There’s a plane in the Hudson. I’m on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy”. This demonstrates the potential power of Twitter and how it can be an important tool in spreading real-time commentary of significant events. It shows how people are receptive to receiving news in this manner and find first-hand accounts of breaking news more engaging.

 http://twitpic.com/135xa


This is however not a one off phenomenon  - Twitter has also showed its increasing worth as a way to report news in other instances, for example during and after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan in March 2011. In this example, the phone networks could not handle the influx of calls and texts that followed this natural disaster, however the internet connections continued to function. This allowed Twitter to step in and soon after the earthquake hit Japan, 1,200 tweets a minute were coming out of Tokyo. Specific hashtags were created in order to organise the massive flood of messages relating to the earthquake. This meant information could be separated into general earthquake information, requests for rescue and aid, evacuation information, medical information for victims and confirmation of the safety of individuals. This shows how beneficial social media can be in breaking news to a wide audience and how it can also help people connect and share experiences and information from disasters such as this.

However, the ability for civilians to act as journalists through social media can also have negative impacts - 50% of news consumers have received “breaking news” via social media, only to find out later that it was incorrectly reported. This poses the question – how trustworthy is news spread by social media? Furthermore, the harm that can come from social media being used as a way to spread news should also be highlighted. For example, the London riots in 2011 escalated rapidly, and this can be partly attributed to the use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and Blackberry Messenger which acted to unite forces and incite likeminded individuals into action. David Cameron commented on the rioter’s use of social media following the riots stating that, “free flow of information can be used for good. But it can also be used for ill”. Although Twitter can be extremely useful in providing responsive, uncensored and immediate updates on the news, the negative aspects should not be forgotten as the power to spread information can also be used for harmful means.



What do you think?

Do you use social media to check the news? Do you think social media is a valuable way to spread breaking news?


Contact us on Twitter, on Facebook, or leave your comments below.



Social Media as a Source of News Reviewed by Anonymous on Tuesday, September 24, 2013 Rating: 5
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