Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about how social media is affecting news coverage. A 2019 Pew Research study of over 5,000 consumers suggests that people are growing weary of how sensationalism and bias have increased in the age of social media. Most Americans believe social media platforms have too much control over information flow and have had a negative effect on news reporting.
Pew Research Findings
One of the key findings of the study was that 62 percent of U.S. adults say social media networks have “too much control” over the mix of news they encounter. A majority also say that the result is “a worse mix of news.” The reason these figures are significant is that these days people get most of their news content from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter first.
The number of adults who get news from social media sites has jumped from 44 percent in 2016 to 54 percent three years later. When the term “often” is applied, the figure has risen from 18 to 28 percent in that short time frame. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of respondents (82 percent) believe some social media networks treat certain media sources differently than others.
Social Media Criteria For News
A major concern is that social media platforms are shaping the news by favoring sensational content or sites with large social media followings. While the study found that respondents believe social networks have political biases and that they favor established sources, only 34 percent perceive these sources are selected due to high reporting standards.
From a publishing perspective, news sources gain more attention with divisive articles that stimulate discussions between opposing sides. The more comments an article generates, the more readers it can potentially attract, whether it is accurate or not.
Facebook is currently working on a news tab in hopes of creating a “trusted news section.” The company is responding to rising pressure that it facilitates the distribution of one-sided news and inaccurate news, the two biggest problems about social media’s association with news perceived by Americans. Less than 20 percent surveyed think these issues are either small problems or not problems at all. Issues such as censorship of news, uncivil discussions and harassment of journalists are perceived as big problems, but to a lesser degree.
A Matter of Trust
Consumers of media must choose their own trusted sources in order to steer clear of being influenced by “fake news” or other types of propaganda posted on social media. For biased thinkers trust means news or perspectives they already agree with. But for critical thinkers who value objectivity in journalism, the task of evaluating news requires fact-checking and raising questions rather than just absorbing information.
But the idea that fake or biased news started with Facebook or Twitter is far from true. Media watchdogs have tracked big media outlets for decades and have caught even the most credible award-winning programs or publications circulating stories that either were inaccurate or biased. The end of World War I, for example, was falsely reported prematurely a century ago.
Individuals who want to research the bias or objectivity of a news source can use media watchdog sites for resources to make evaluations. The concept that a media outlet is owned or controlled by a political party in nothing new, as most major newspapers endorse political candidates and a certain segment of the political spectrum. While there are various fact-checking sites to use, several are owned by news sources with a left, center or right bias. Researching the history of a media outlet often helps uncover who they support.