Introduction

With hundreds of millions of daily active users, a few large social networks have become the dominant online media outlets for most people. The largest among these, Facebook has reached over two billion active members across the globe who, on average, spend about an hour each day on the platform. Other successful social platforms include Tencent’s WeChat in China and VKontakte in Russia. If in their early days, these platforms were mostly used as a way for users to share personal stories and pictures; their role has progressively evolved into one of content aggregation: an important share of the content displayed on their websites is produced by third-party publishers, who use the platforms as an alternative to their own website to reach consumers. The news industry, in particular, has been affected by this change: studies show that more than 50% of consumers use social media as a source of news, and 14% as their main source. Facebook has recently surpassed Google as the main external source of the traffic to newspapers’ websites. This situation is a double-edged sword for publishers: social platforms provide the opportunity to reach a wider audience, yet newspapers worry about the growing power of platforms, for fear of losing their privileged relationship with readers, and eventually most of their revenues. Such content bundling is not merely a result of consumers actively “sharing” news stories through the platform, but is a deliberate strategic choice by the platforms. Indeed, even though the content that a consumer gets exposed to depends on the behaviour of his “friends”, platforms retain a considerable amount of control over the content that is displayed and can choose to emphasize one type of content over another.[1]

News recommendation systems have been widely used in online news platforms. For example, Apple News by Apple and Toutiao by ByteDance recommend news articles based on their algorithms that analyze readers’ online behaviours. Typically, this type of system optimizes readers’ news consumption. However, it also generates many concerns: Do news recommendation systems exacerbate the diffusion of fake news? And do these systems make people more addicted to information that they favour, which can further reinforce their (biased) behaviours (e.g., voting behaviour)? To answer all these important questions, it is crucial to understand first what leads to an increase in news viewership.[2]

Social Media and News Organizations

The world’s new, digital, and highly competitive media environment has created fundamental problems in the business models that journalism relies on. Print products are in terminal decline; television audiences are plummeting. Advertising around the news is no longer attractive when internet giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon offer far more effective ways to target consumers. These new financial realities have led many news organizations to adopt problematic techniques for survival: prioritizing quantity over quality and running so-called clickbait headlines. Each of these developments, combined with a lack of transparency within news organizations and the increased use of unfiltered social media platforms as news sources, contributes to a further drop in trust in the media.

The decline of news organizations may seem unstoppable. But while the internet has permanently disrupted traditional media, it also presents several ways to fix it. Social media can bring local communities back into journalism, boosting transparency, accountability, accuracy, and quality. Harnessing the reach of the internet can help neutralize bias in the news industry and fix problems relating to a lack of representation and diversity. Information providers can achieve these advances in a financially viable way—by making readers direct participants and stakeholders. To do all this, however, journalism must adapt to the era of connectivity and information.[3]

Social media users can today access information with a few taps on a smartphone, but in many cases, they either lack the skills or the time to properly assess the reliability of that information.

Emerging platforms have enabled mere news enthusiasts—and propagandists—to compete with professional journalists on an equal footing. On these platforms, what makes a news report successful is its level of virality: The articles and videos that are most popular are the ones that attract the most immediate and radical emotional reactions, even if they contain factual errors. Current advertising-only business models rely on this fact for survival, prioritizing content that is addictive and shareable rather than reliable and important.

Some news organizations try to resist social media, some embrace it completely. Buzz Feed or the LADbible, for example, is new news organizations built only for social media. They understood how social platforms spread news stories and what was the best format.

News companies are abandoning their production capacities and their advertising departments by delegating all their content to third-party platforms. This is the only way for some news companies to survive by reaching a younger audience. Two main issues then matter. What is the new relationship that agencies share with their readers? And who really controls the news?[4]

Affecting the News Viewership

The ultimate objective of news recommendations is to increase the viewership of news, which can translate into subscriptions, advertising, and eventually revenues for news publishers and recommendation systems. Although current recommendation systems rely on machine learning algorithms, the underlying mechanism for what affects news viewership always assumes that recommendations of news content are based on users’ past click behaviours and/or their self-reported interests.

Although mass media can be thought of as top-down dissemination of news by editors and executives, social media information, especially at the aggregate level, can signal in advance the attractiveness of a news topic. On the one hand, social media constantly records and/or affects people’s thoughts, emotions, and attitudes toward events, thus directing the public’s attention toward certain topics. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence shows that popular topics also emerge from social media, showing the public’s attention toward these topics as well. Therefore, information diffusion between mass media and social media is a complex process. On studies about how social media sites and diffuses information from mass media it is argued that social media may increase the mass media’s news viewership – when readers find news links in social media (news stories that have already been published), they are likelier to click the links and read the news articles on the mass media’s websites 

Social media users comment on and create topics, contributing to the formation and growth of a topic’s popularity, which represents the crowd’s attention to these topics. Many scholars have found that social media captures people’s attention in different contexts such as consumer goods and political settings and others. The volume of information commenting, tagging, and creating activities on social media suggests emerging events, breaking news, and information that attracts a large number of people, thus representing the attention of the crowd. Accordingly, a statistical model is used to identify attention-grabbing items on social media. Parallel to the efforts from academia to use social media as proxies for public attention, social media platforms highlight their efforts to aggregate user-generated content to filter and select items worth paying attention to. For example, the “Trends” feature on Twitter lists topics that are trending based on users’ locations and connections and the volume of tweets with respect to the topics. Different items such as videos, topics, and movies are all filtered within each category to identify “hot” (popular) items that reflect the attention these items have already attracted. Therefore, social media functions as a curator of topics worthy of the crowd’s attention.[5]

 In the context of news consumption, we argue that such attention to topics on social media can trigger social media users to read more news articles that report these topics in different events in greater detail. We have seen real-world anecdotal examples of this mechanism at work as well: For example, when United Airlines was popular on Twitter because of an incident in which a passenger has dragged off a plane, the company and the entire airline industry received heavy media coverage that in turn generated attention on Twitter. As a result, the viewership of relevant news articles (e.g., other events on other airlines) increased considerably. Some may argue that the increase in viewership simply resulted from an increase in news coverage. 

While social media is penetrating the whole news industry, publishers wonder whether they should treat them as competitors. Some readers believe they should, and others think that social media is another way of delivering information and there is nothing newsroom owners should worry about.

Unlike traditional news platforms such as newspapers and news shows, news content on social media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and WhatsApp, allows users without having professional journalistic backgrounds to create news. Some have raised concerns over authoritative reliability on account of lenient moderation and the open-access element of these public platforms. 

Social media users may read a set of news that is different from what newspaper editors feature in the print press. Using nanotechnology as an example, a study was conducted that studied tweets from Twitter and found that some 41% of the discourse about nanotechnology focused on its negative impacts, suggesting that a portion of the public may be concerned with how various forms of nanotechnology are used in the future. Although optimistic-sounding and neutral-sounding tweets were equally likely to express certainty or uncertainty, the pessimistic tweets were nearly twice as likely to appear certain of an outcome than uncertain. These results imply the possibility of a preconceived negative perception of many news articles associated with nanotechnology. Alternatively, these results could also imply that posts of a more pessimistic nature that are also written with an air of certainty are more likely to be shared or otherwise permeate groups on Twitter. Similar biases need to be considered when the utility of new media is addressed, as the potential for human opinion to over-emphasize any particular news story is greater despite the general improvement in addressed potential uncertainty and bias in news articles than in traditional media.

In order to compete in this rapidly changing technological environment, there has been an upheaval of traditional news sources onto online spaces. The production and circulation of newspaper prints have continued to globally decline in accordance with the increasing presence of news outlets on social media.  Prominent platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been key in engaging users through the integration of journalistic news into their newsfeeds. This feature has now become a foundational part of these apps’ interfaces.[6]

A Trouble to Journalism?

Today, journalists face challenges caused by new media technologies. Journalism is experiencing considerable changes linked to social, cultural, economical, and technological transformations.

Social media brings new characteristics like interactive dialogue and social interactions. Journalists can now have real conversations with their audience. Online debates have also been put into place so that everyone can express themselves (when comments are enabled of course). Traditional one-way communication is turning into two-way conversations. Social media has given a real meaning to what freedom of speech is. In history, expressing yourself has never been so easy.

Twitter is a very professional social media that you know we use a lot, as it helps journalists find quotes and contact people they might never see in person. It is also a good way to get breaking stories as soon as they happen. Journalists often use twitter personally to show the audience that they are humans. It enhances the likability of some journalists and plays a key role in how they interact with their audience. The convergence between personal and professional life, on Twitter, for example, is a significant sign of social media’s adoption. On social media, news organizations will know their readers much more than with press releases, because a comment section is now available.

News companies can now use live videos. The viewers can be with the journalist somewhere in the world instantly. The use of Facebook live is changing the relationship between the journalist and the viewer because there is no editing. If a journalist uses Facebook live for their audience, while covering Syria for example, while reporting on the bombing, shocking images could traumatize people. Facebook should have an editing role and not only be a platform. News publishers have lost control over distribution. Social media and platforms took over the role of publishers and now the news is filtered through algorithms. And these algorithms are unpredictable.[7]

Strong and independent journalism is at the heart of any healthy, functioning democracy. It is the gatekeeper against corruption and plays a vital role in communicating the facts that allow people to make informed decisions about their lives. Statements by politicians delegitimizing the media resonate with the public only if they are already in doubt of its validity. Quality journalism that involves the news community in the process of producing it creates a transparent operation that can gain the public’s trust. This kind of collaborative, responsive media has a greater likelihood of attracting the direct support of people who believe in the importance of sustaining it. To save itself, journalism now needs to go back to the people.

When pollsters ask Americans whether they trust the news they read, listen to, and watch, the answer is increasingly negative. This sentiment is in fact now common all over the world. Growing rates of global internet access have made countless sources of information readily available but with few checks and balances and widely varying levels of credibility. Unprecedented access to all kinds of media has not only increased competition among news providers, but it has also led to the extreme proliferation of low-quality yet plausible-looking sources of information—making it easier for political players to manipulate public opinion and to do so while denigrating established news brands.[8]

An Outlook on the Future

For all their flaws, however, social media platforms contain important solutions to declining levels of trust in the news industry. Emerging media have dramatically expanded the global audience of news consumers, and information providers should see that reach not as a problem but as an opportunity. The global online community, if properly harnessed, can increase accountability in news organizations by identifying biases and improving neutrality in reporting: Having the oversight of countless diverse online users can be beneficial.

Transparency is the bedrock of restoring public trust in the media; eliciting greater involvement among consumers will naturally lead to an increased demand for media transparency in sources of funding, the involvement of advertisers, and political pressure.

Beyond a supervisory role, an important step would be to regard the online community as an active participant in the process of producing news. Given the chance, internet users can carve out a crucial role in assembling and curating accurate information. The key is to view social media users as a huge community of fact-checkers and news producers, instead of passive recipients of unreliable news.

The theory of turning readers into active resources is not merely hypothetical—it is a concept we adopted in 2017 when we founded WikiTribune as a news platform supported by professional journalists but controlled by an online community. Devoid of any traditional hierarchy, the organization encourages the highest levels of neutrality and transparency. WikiTribune’s volunteers and professional journalists will share the same editing rights: Each one of them can initiate or edit any article on the platform. Moderators emerge naturally from within the community.

Making readers active participants in the production of news can also help organizations save money. Fact-checking and editing, for example, can be delegated to communities of volunteers using the vast database of the internet. Traditional news editors may find this notion difficult to accept, but the concept comes naturally to people who have grown up using the internet. Passive consumption is no longer the dominant feature in news; we are all creators of content, and we should all get a chance to participate in how information is disseminated.

The wiki model—defined as any website that allows collaborative editing—also provides an effective solution to bias in reporting. If everyone has equal power, no one can control a narrative. Bias often comes from hierarchical news models in which senior editors can mold the news to fit their views—or those of their publishers or financial backers. Collaborative editing platforms allow and encourage an open discussion on every article by a variety of participants from different backgrounds. Any disputes over opposing narratives are constructively resolved by the community, avoiding the problems in traditional journalism.[9]

A community-driven news product doesn’t have to be restricted to English. Most new internet users read Hindi, Bengali, Arabic, or Chinese; Wikipedia, for example, allows users of any language to document their news and events on its online encyclopedia, and it does so despite local government restrictions on journalism, leading a global battle against censorship.

To be sure, collaborative models are not without their problems. It can be a struggle to create a thoughtful and varied community dedicated to the goal of producing high-quality news. Bad actors such as online trolls and politically motivated participants are threats requiring clear systems of identification, moderation, and removal. Constant efforts must be made to include as much variety of culture, religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, geography, and political inclination as to prevent biases. Creating standards and practices can take time, but the success of the worldwide Wikipedia community, which has faced similar challenges, proves that community models can provide an effective public good—with a high level of trust and engagement.[10]

Conclusion

Since 1700 Ad newspapers have been working as a primary medium of news added by magazines in19th century and media tile radio and television in the 20th century. Internet followed them and took effect from the end of the last era.

A new problem social media has raised, is that there is too much news. The audience cannot always figure out the veracity of the news they see on social media. Which news organization should they trust? People will continue trusting the big news agencies they have always trusted, but what about the next generation? They will have never trusted any news organizations and could be lost among the fake news. The 2014 Irish Social Journalism Survey published the statistic that 64% of Irish journalists said that information on social media can’t be trusted.[11]

The way to consume news in the world has changed. Before the question was; who is a journalist? Now the question is; who is a publisher?

The news agencies have to ask themselves what is more important, to reach a wider audience or to control their own pathways? How the algorithm sort out the news on Facebook or twitter’s news feed is a mystery, or rather not publically shared. We can’t really say which stories are being promoted the hardest, which are suppressed, and why.

Who is in charge of these algorithms? There are important risks in having a non-elected person in charge of what the audience reads and thinks.


[1] Alexandre de Corniere & Miklos Sarvary, Social Media and the News Industry (October 2, 2017), SSRN, https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3049358

[2] Ren, Jie and Dong, Hang and Sabnis, Gaurav and Nickerson, Jeffrey V., How Social Media Impacts Mass Media News Viewership in the Stock Market (August 23,2019), SSRN, https://ssrn.com/abstract=3441840 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3441840

[3] Jimmy Wales & Orit Copel, The internet Broke the news industry-and can fix it too (October 19, 2019), Foreign Policy, https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/10/19/internet-broke-journalism-fake-news/

[4] Ibid

[5] See Supra note 2

[6] Relationship to traditional news sources, Social Media as a News Source, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_media_as_a_news_source

[7] Oscar Michel, how social media has changed journalism, Irish Tech News (July 21, 2017), https://irishtechnews.ie/how-social-media-has-changed-journalism/?

[8] See supra note 3

[9] Koustav Mukherjee, Advancement of Social Media and Future of Newspaper Industry, Global Media Journal (June-2016) Vol. 7,No. 1, https://www.caluniv.ac.in/global-mdia-journal/COMMENT-2016-NOV/C1.pdf

[10] Blog, Social media impact on News, Iontechnologies, https://iotechnologies.com/blog/social-media-news

[11] See supra note 4

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