The internet innovation of social news sharing born through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, has reshaped communications with users creating, sharing and engaging with content distributed by themselves, their peers or organisations on centralised platforms (Martin & Tim, 2019, p. 91). Having become global behemoths boasting 2.6 billion, 1.1 billion and 326 million users respectively, the aforementioned platforms not only own but control the online news economy, commodifying all interactions via datafication (Statistica, 2020). While ordinary users benefit from becoming “produsers” of news and thus democratise publication (Bruns, 2007, p. 101), the advantages are imbalanced towards the colossal profit, data insights and manipulative power of platforms. Politically, social news sharing benefits voters uncovering information (e.g. Clinton emails) while opening the floodgates to #fakenews that yields unheralded political power and undermines democratic process (e.g. 2016 & 2020 US Election) (Rampersad, 2019, p. 3). Economically, platforms house news free of charge, crippling traditional revenue streams. Socially, the innovation has created a “sharing economy for all exchange”, (John, 2018, p. 71), producing a commodified, datafication based internet culture. Thus, the innovation has undoubtedly reinvigorated communications and shifted information management power dynamics, delivering an array of implications for users, platforms and society.
Genesis of Social News Sharing
Social news sharing developed from the introduction of platforms such as Facebook which launched in 2004, alongside other micro-blogging platforms such as Myspace (Karnowski et al, 2015, p. 4). With users posting comments, news or sharing information to their wall with personalised content delivered to their newsfeed, the innovation was born and with it, the integral change in creating a democratised, digital based news atmosphere. As platforms gathered momentum and ever-expanding control through increased users, geographic spread and societal normalisation, the innovation became central to everyday life, with users joining or risking getting left behind in the social news centred world (Broersma et al, 2018, p. 187). Moreover, with latter, highly niche platforms spawning such as Instagram (picture based), Twitter (commentary & micro community news) and YouTube (video) the innovation only evolved with time and platforms. This reinforces how the practice became a staple feature of modern life that completely reshaped communication with platform based control and user subordinance.
Trends in Information Management from Social News Sharing
Social news sharing has become part of the trend towards highly curated, individualised content consumption that aligns with individual’s worldview. Through users’ interactions with friends, likes/follows and viral trends, social news sharing builds upon traditional media’s role in dictating the public agenda by empowering individuals and actuating change through hashtag activism (e.g. #BLM, #MeToo, #Kony2012) (Burnett et al, 2018, p. 6). However, with social news sharing being susceptible to the rapid, ever changing online news cycle, its effectiveness remains questionable. This is evident in the success of the 2020 #BLM protests following George Floyd’s death that instigated changes to police powers versus #Kony2012 that failed to spawn widespread physical action. Moreover, with the innovation being grounded in curated content that demands attention (Martin & Tim, 2019, p. 95), it builds upon the trend towards individualised information management, either deliberate or inadvertent through filter bubbles and echo chambers (Flaxman et al, 2016, p. 299).
Winners and Losers from Social News Sharing
Politically, the transformative effects of social news sharing have been of utmost significance to individual users, political candidates and democracy itself with the exposé type culture distributing power away from traditional news organisations and empowering the individual. This is evident in Wikileaks releasing Hilary Clinton’s private emails, derailing her 2016 campaign and inflaming #fakenews articles that had “undue influence” in shaping the election result (Bovet & Makse, 2019, p. 3). It revealed how social news sharing is a double edged political sword for individuals who can publish material in ways previously unseen, but also manipulate impressionable voters through false articles. For platforms themselves, they have benefited from users accessing their platforms for viral, political stories. Moreover, to remain accountable for their unprecedented democratic power, vital interventions to prevent #fakenews scandals have been implemented to protect users, evident in Facebook’s #fakenews button and Twitter removing Donald Trump’s false coronavirus tweets (BBC, 2020).
Economically, the transformative effects of social news sharing can be seen in platforms gaining an ever expanding audience, but more concerningly, regurgitating traditional media and neglecting their right to appropriate remuneration. Such practice has resulted in platforms expanding their network, users and profit without compensation, completely restructuring traditional media power dynamics. Thus, the ACCC has launched a draft media bargaining code to address such injustice (ACCC, 2020). With Google and Facebook threatening to leave the Australian market, the economic imbalance and manipulative power of online giants is revealed. Furthermore, while users benefit from “free” content, insights gained from social news sharing reveals the detrimental exchange of “data and your digital rights” with such digital currency completely exploiting the user’s right to privacy (Martin & Tim,2019, p. 99).
Figure 7. “Facebook threatens to ban news sharing in Australia if proposed media law is enacted”. Video: CNA YouTube. All Rights Reserved.
Socially, users have benefited most from having a customised world of content at their fingertips. Such “perceived interconnectedness” reiterates how individuals are supposedly “closer than ever”, traversing distance, space and time to find their own unique place for news (Abidin, 2015, p. 4). This is evident in the popularisation of Twitter Stan communities circulating niche news bypassed by mainstream media with its popularity occasionally penetrating traditional coverage (e.g. #10Yearsof1D – 1.03m retweets, #BTSbadguy 1.3m retweets made news headlines) (Brandwatch, 2020). More specifically, individual users’ posts also become micro based news (e.g. “in a relationship” Facebook status). However, individuals with less followers can be discriminated against by the competition to garner engagement, creating a lack of equity in being noticed.
Overall, this cultural shift towards individualised, democratised news consumption significantly benefits users broadcasting themselves, but not without the detriment of data analysis. The innovation feeds platforms datafication and profit, evident in Facebook’s $17.44 billion advertising revenue (Matney, 2020). While more disturbingly, traditional media companies, less connected users and those who forgo platforms altogether are left behind with no feasible alternative for such social connection.
Figure 9. “Sharing Information on Social Media” explains data based insights delivered through social news sharing and how it can manipulate opinion. Video: Behind the News YouTube. All Rights Reserved.
Problems & Effects of Social News Sharing
The innovation has completely reinvigorated education, however, not without unique problems. This is evident in social news sharing becoming part of academic investigation, with produsage (Bruns, 2007, p. 3), filter bubbles (Flaxman, 2016, p. 298) and “political interference” underpinning media studies (Martin and Tim, 2019, p. 125). This reveals the evolution from a traditional, journalistic focus towards holistic media ethics and digital education to traverse difficulties identified in the Cambridge Analytica hacking scandal, 2016 and 2020 US Elections (Wong, 2019). Overall, it reflects academic theory constantly evolving alongside technological, platform and legislative based change surrounding social news sharing. However, due to the sheer pace, questions on malpractice remain largely unanswered or continually in flux.
Figure 10. “Fake News and the 2016 Election” details how half of the 2016 US Election candidate information was said to be fake. Video: Fox News YouTube. All Rights Reserved.
Professionally, the innovation has birthed new media roles, including content managers, explosion of online blogging (e.g. Huffington Post popularisation and Trump’s impeachment news going viral) and traditional current affairs roles moving online (e.g. Bauer media closing 8 former titles and others being online only) (Gross, 2020). With physical circulation shifting towards metrics on share of voice, sentiment and viral engagement, the change undermines journalistic integrity as bush-lawyer type journalism and “clickbait culture” is harvested with “#fakenews traveling faster than truth” (Chadwick, 2018). While new opportunities have emerged, the imbalance towards online heavyweights and the lack of appropriate remuneration for professional, journalistic output requires urgent addressing, evident in the ACCC draft code.
Overall, social news sharing has undeniably created a democratised, social media news based atmosphere where individualised tastes, voices and #fakenews thrives. With platforms owning and controlling business through “datafication to create value”, user’s benefit from raising their voice. However, whether they are actually heard and the cost of such “free” exchange in return for their data remains highly questionable (Martin and Tim, 2019, p. 125). Instead, platforms benefit from immense profits, user growth and unimagined knowledge of participants and news trends. Meanwhile, traditional media remain forgotten amidst the sweeping political (e.g. 2016/2020 US Election scandals), economic (e.g. ACCC draft code), social (e.g. fandom news) and cultural shifts towards a platform and profit dominated news sphere (Bovet & Maske, 2018, p. 12). Ultimately, such dominance leaves behind those who go without or refuse to adapt to the social news archetype, with the innovation being undoubtedly revolutionary and by no means just a trend. Rather, it is an ever-changing and unforgiving power rooted phenomenon with transformative effects on users, platforms and the mediascape alike.
1408 words (10% leeway applied).
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