Katerina Eva Matsa and Amy Mitchell of the PewResearch Journalism Project wrote a very interesting piece on the news in social media. In “8 Key Takeaways About Social Media and News” Matsa and Mitchell begin by explaining that most social media users get their news from reddit and Facebook, respectively. Contrarily, users receive very little news from Instagram and Pinterest. Interestingly enough, the article also explains that users receive this news incidentally. Only “34% of Facebook news consumers ‘like’ a news organization or individual journalist” and this means that most news actually comes from users’ friends. As another result of friends as a news source, most news topics from our social networks have to do with entertainment, our respective communities, and sports.
Engagement also stands as another noteworthy point about news in social media. While most people share news with their network through some form of reposting and commenting, they have also taken on the role of newscaster. User postings of photos and videos at a news event provide over a quarter of social network news sharing.
It should be noted, however, that social media news engagement might not necessarily provide the best source of news. Research shows that conversation regarding a news topic on Twitter does not necessarily coincide with the conversation within the general public sphere. For example, the study examined the shootings in Newton, Connecticut. Following the unfortunate events of the tragedy, 64% of Twitter users called for stricter gun control while only 49% of public opinion followed suit. Even then, this statistic only provides some insight into the sentiment of Twitter users. The study goes on and explains that Twitter sentiment expressed can change over time. Matsa and Mitchell provide another example regarding same-sex marriage. On April 1st, 2013, 55% of Twitter users opposed same-sex marriage and by May 12th of that year this percentage significantly reduced to 26% opposition. As important as this may be, we should take these statistics with a grain of salt. Public opinion always changes. We see these changes through legal amendments, fashion trends, and more recently with the public opinion of Justin Bieber. Change happens. Everything is contextual. Everything evolves.
As technology and the flow of information advance, change will occur a lot more rapidly and this is exactly what the study’s findings about opinion on Twitter communicate. The seventh takeaway of the article begins hinting at the relevance of context. We are provided with various statistics about the demographics of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube. In general, they are all relatively close to one another, with a few exceptions. For example, the percentage of males is 42%, 50%, 48%, 67%, and 57%, respectively. But more variance occurs with the percentage of users with Bachelor’s degrees (or higher), which ranges from 23% (YouTube) to 64% (LinkedIn). Any competent communicator understands that one must always consider their audience. Framing and context play major roles in how messages either reinforce or combat our attitudes and beliefs. Lastly, the journalists reinforce my point as they indicate that visitors who were directed to a news outlet via Facebook will display less engagement than those who directly targeted the news outlet. Facebook may increase reach for an outlet, but we must also consider the quality of the reach as well.
These eight takeaways provide great insight into the role of news in social media. The increase in social media news exposes an increasing subjectivity of news. It also illustrates a decline in traditional and objective news sources. As journalists such as Matsa and Mitchell aim for objectivity, our incredibly integrated world continues to stray further from such neutrality. Consequently, this challenges the integrity of the once thriving industry of journalism.