Has Social Media Ruined the News?
By Daniel Zeevi
Can you trust what you read on the internet anymore? Social media connects people around the world in ways never imagined possible. Breaking news, like the Boston Marathon tragedy, sometimes hits Twitter before even the major news outlets can pick it up. Given the number of references journalists now make to activity on Twitter and the like, it can seem that social media has infiltrated traditional media sources from television to radio broadcast. Journalists have even started to rely on social media like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter as sources for their news stories. Sure, social media lets us break news fast, but are we really better off for it?
That depends. With social media, news certainly travels faster than with traditional media forms. In some cases this could provide lifesaving information to people who need to stay out of harm’s way. Given the viral nature of social media, however, share buttons are just as likely to allow us to spread false information as to spread the truth.
Manipulating the Media
How many times have you become worked up over an article thinking it was actual news only to realize later it was merely gossip? Epipheo interviewed Ryan Holliday, author of Trust Me, I’m Lying, and possibly discovered the reason you read the rumors as facts in the first place. Holliday gives us a closer look at how he was able to manipulate the media to get bogus, anonymous stories to hit the front-page of major news media outlets.
Holliday points out that we can hardly trust news stories anymore because the system of news sources is broken. “In fact, the news may not really be the news at all,” Holliday said. According to Holliday, small blogs with little at stake tend to post stories with negligible regard to their factuality. Sometimes when these stories go viral larger media outlets like the Huffington Post or CNN publish the stories and, under the veil of big media names, we quickly forget that the original source was not the most trustworthy.
What is driving the media to publish viral content rather than the truth? Page views. Page views and money. The more page views a site generates, the more attractive it becomes to advertisers. To increase page views, publishers will do anything from post misleading headlines to postpone fact-checking until after an article is published. In the worst cases, publishers knowingly post gossip and speculation just to get attention.
Is there any way to find news you can trust? Not really. Given the current system of free media and publishing, social networks and publishers aren’t interested in catering to our needs; rather, they must do what it takes for advertisers to pay the bills, and that means publishing whatever generates the most page views.
If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. <Tweet This>
Spreading False Information
Another major concern about the state of Internet journalism is that our news sources are vulnerable to being hacked. Recently the Twitter account of the Associated Press was compromised when hackers sent out false tweets about a non-real explosion at the White House. Sure, the AP quickly noticed the hack, suspended their Twitter account, and issued statements of clarification, but the damage had already been done. The false alarm sent the stock market temporarily spiraling downward.
The @ap Twitter account has been suspended after it was hacked. The tweet about an attack on the White House was false.
— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) April 23, 2013
Given that hackers sometimes take advantage of security breaches outside of the social media platforms’ control, it doesn’t seem likely that hackers will soon stop attacking the social media accounts of major news sources. Read more about how hackers gain access to media accounts, if you dare trust the source.
What do you think about the state of news? Have you ever read something online from a reputable source only to learn later you were fed a lie?