Social Media Takes Over the News


When it comes to news circulation on social media, there are positives as well as negatives. Is the meme about a black hole or the comedic dance number to a soundbite about a new virus taken only as a joke? Could these jokes serve as a source for the spread of news?

     A recent survey conducted by Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey found that 54% of U.S. teens get their news from platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and 50% get their news from YouTube.

     As for adults, the statistics are similar. According to a recent Pew Research Center report, “More than half of U.S. adults get news from social media often or sometimes (55%), up from 47% in 2018.”

     When the student sitting next to you in class confidently shares some breaking news, the question is how much of that news comes from non- traditional news sources. In other words, this  student’s news bite may come from people or sources who are not held to the same fact-checking bar as traditional journalists.

     According to the Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey survey, “Sixty percent of teens who get news from YouTube say they are more likely to get it from celebrities, influencers, and personalities as compared to news organizations (39%).”

     Whether a post or platform is spreading hoaxes or factual news, students tend to believe what they see. For example, social media played a significant role in the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. Individuals were posting on Twitter and Instagram before they even knew facts about the events. The official investigation was still in progress as social media posts poured in accusing innocent people.

     False headlines included “Vegas cop who ‘froze’ in hotel hallway during massacre is fired” and “Vegas massacre gunman was inspired by father, FBI says.”

     These misleading headlines attest to the risk that lies in news distribution through social media. Social media allows for the rapid spread of fake news and untruths that can be hard to track or police for the general public. However, is it beneficial to use social media to spread news if it is trustworthy information?

     When a reputable news publication has a verified account on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, it is safe to say that their posts are fact-checked and reliable. Anyone can follow these reliable sources to provide a news element to their feeds. Readers can also sign up for daily email newsletters, ranging from compilations of top headlines to opinion columns to rundowns of movies.

     Sources like news stations, police departments and other reliable organizations can spread necessary information in seconds, as almost everyone looks at social media multiple times a day, scrolling for new content to ingest. Because of social media, many people have been saved from earthquakes or tornadoes due to others posting about the danger in order to warn others.

     Other organizations will use social media to get the word out about cancellations or schedule changes, such as when the Ursuline Dallas Instagram account posted about school cancellations the week after the October tornado.

     However, in reference back to the idea of the spreading of false information, what are the repercussions if true information is spread in an inappropriate manner by individuals?

     A recent example comes from the World War Three videos on Tik Tok and Instagram. The event that sparked the WWIII memes was a serious political situation, the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq by a U.S. airstrike, but these social media platforms displayed videos mocking or making light of the situation.

     Similarly, the coronavirus originating from China is a deadly virus that has spread around the world. The World Health Organization declared the situation a global emergency. More than a thousand people have died worldwide and yet the virus has been used as the punchline for many jokes and memes.

     Mocking these situations has negative moral implications, but there might be indirect positives found in such media attention. The seriousness, although diluted, still radiates from the situational matter of the event. Students can spread the significance of current events in a way that catches the attention of younger generations, which may engross them in politics and current events.

     The most important part of using social media as a primary news source is knowing which sources are reliable and how to judge if they are or not. While platforms like TikTok could increase news exposure in a roundabout way, the real test comes when teens decide who to trust and what to believe.

     This is more complicated than it seems, even with the presence of reputable news organizations on social media. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube use mysterious algorithms to organize their content and news feeds, dictating what users will or will not see.

     “Among all teens who get their news from YouTube—regardless of how often—exactly half (50%) say they most often find news on YouTube because it was recommended by YouTube itself,” Common Sense Media reported.

     Social media continues to be an evolving giant with its own positives and negatives. But news literacy is an important goal for which students should strive, and social media remains extremely popular among teens. Combining the two seems not only inevitable, but strategic as well. With 78% of Americans age 13 to 17 saying following current events is important to them, social media is a way to encourage that sentiment.

     Seemingly, that time honored adage spoken by your English teacher when assigning your research paper to “verify and attribute your sources” is also applicable to news literacy.

Image courtesy of Media Update

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