You might have heard about the latest information from the Pew Research Center about how most of us seem to get our news these days. If the study is accurate, you might even have heard about it on Twitter or found it in your Facebook news feed. You see, according to the study, clear majorities of Twitter (63%) and Facebook users (63%) now say each platform serves as a source for news about events and issues outside the realm of friends and family. That share has increased substantially from 2013, when about half of users (52% of Twitter users, 47% of Facebook users) said they got news from the social platforms.
What makes me a little nervous is what the Pew folks go on to say:
As more social networking sites recognize and adapt to their role in the news environment, each will offer unique features for news users, and these features may foster shifts in news use. Those different uses around news features have implications for how Americans learn about the world and their communities, and for how they take part in the democratic process.
Having worked with professional reporters and journalists, I can tell you that they don’t just report what they see since sometimes appearances can be deceiving. The problem, both in journalism and in business, is that instant analysis is often wrong – who can forget CNN, The Boston Globe, and others having to retract reports around the Boston Marathon bombing? When the reportage is immediate from many people who are untrained in evaluating information (what’s the source, how reliable, etc.), the chances of something being way off base increase dramatically. Couple that with the built-in selectivity, in the case of Facebook, of algorithms which filter what you see unless you dig a little and one can see how “news” found on social media can easily be “rumor.”
I think social media can play a valuable role in surfacing breaking stories. Twitter is soon set to unveil its long-rumored news feature, “Project Lightning.” The feature will allow anyone, whether they are a Twitter user or not, to view a feed of tweets, images and videos about live events as they happen, curated by a bevy of new employees with “newsroom experience.” This is a good thing, in my opinion. What’s not is accepting what we see there as gospel until there are multiple, professionally trained sources weighing in. Yes, sometimes they’re wrong (see above), but when they don’t try to compete with the instantaneous stuff found in non-professional sources, they generally get it right. What do you think?