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Social media news – threat or friend?

Sep 04, 2018
Are you happy to get your news from social media? Here, David Jordan, Deputy Editor of The Mover, suggests that maybe it’s not a good idea.

Social media - threat or friend?

Are you happy to get your news from social media?  Here, David Jordan, Deputy Editor of The Mover, suggests that maybe it’s not a good idea.

We were all taught from an early age not to believe everything we read in newspapers. Good advice: but although it’s certainly true that the mainstream press is far from perfect, they are accountable for the stories they publish and can and are brought to book if they misbehave. The recent case in the UK involving the BBC and Sir Cliff Richard for example, resulted in the Corporation paying over a million pounds in damages and court fees for breaching the star’s privacy.

The BBC is the largest news gathering agency in the world with over 2,000 journalists, all of whom are identifiable and accountable for their actions. Other organisations publishing news stories, including us here at The Mover, are similarly responsible.

Social media, however, has no such constraints, and although in theory those who post ‘news’ on platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are legally subject to the same rules as mainstream media, in reality they enjoy a journalistic free-for-all with no accountability for their output. Fake news is rife, and as we all know from the recent misuse of data by Cambridge Analytica, material can be carefully targeted at people likely to be sympathetic with the authors’ objectives.

Send us your 'real news'It is widely believed that the Trump election and the Brexit referendum were influenced by ads and bogus news stories posted on social media by unknown people and organisations wishing to fulfil their political ambitions.  If this is true the implications are, to say the very least, worrying. Facebook alone has over 2.23 billion daily users – that’s about 30% of the world’s population, quite a readership!

A survey carried out by US technology company Morning Consultant in 2017 showed that 42% of adults obtained their news through Facebook, with only 20% using traditional news sources.

The trouble is it’s difficult to spot what is fake and what is real and, as there is no editorial control, anyone can pretty much write what they like. Some will say that’s a good thing, free speech, etc. but I beg to differ. Here at The Mover we do our level best to make sure our stories are true, balanced and transparent – in other words our readers know where they came from. Sometimes we may get it wrong and when we do, our readers know where to find us and we put it right.

As in every profession people need to be paid, and in the case of journalism, that usually means attracting advertisers to the publications they work for - the BBC being the one notable exception. Posting your news on social media may be free, but do you really want your company’s name appearing next to a fake news story written by someone with a hidden agenda?

Ponder the thought. If the trend for people obtaining news solely from social media continues, all conventional news agencies will eventually go out of business, meaning no one will be there to write the stories - features as well as news - there will be no professional photo journalists taking pictures or shooting news videos, and no one to conduct interviews or give politicians a grilling. Instead we will all have to rely on unaccountable amateurs and mischief makers to keep us up to date with what’s going on in the world. Not an attractive prospect.

As I said at the beginning, mainstream media is not perfect, far from it, but the Wild West alternative of wall-to-wall citizen journalism fed to our screens via social media is a serious threat to our society and even to democracy itself.

In the UK a parliamentary select committee, The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has been investigating disinformation and fake news disseminated by social media and has now published its interim report. It makes interesting reading.

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