The New Age of Social News Sharing

Online Content Distribution

Businessman hand on computer laptop
Image: Shutterstock - by JB illustration

The New Age of Social News Sharing

The transition from traditional media to online social news sharing has transformed the way users interact with current events and communicate with one another. The internet has created a new scale of global participation through social media platforms as individuals actively participate in information sharing with their online network. Firstly, the consumption of news has been simplified through social media when compared to the limitations of historical news resources as it makes globally diverse information available in one place. Additionally, this shift in communications media has evolved the cultural and economic climate with public sharing moving entirely online and large corporations using data analytics to specifically target consumer interests for financial purpose. Finally, the new age of social news sharing is primarily controlled by users as they are the main conductors of content distribution, and while this process may be broadly beneficial, it has the effect of facilitating the production of misinformation and oversharing. In regards to political interests, the rapid circulation of falsified stories can be damaging to society at large.

Historically, traditional news media was communicated through newspaper and magazine columns, radio segments, face-to-face conversations, and eventually through television programs. This system presents limitations for early consumers as their news exposure was determined by editors controlling daily news flow and there was an absence of effective diffusion channels (Lee & Ma, 2012, p. 332). 

Newspapers
Newspapers B&W –
Image: by NS Newsflash is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The innovation of the internet and the rise of news sharing through social media has created a new level of information distribution. In the past, individuals had to seek out important information through familiar sources, and as Fiona Martin (2019) remarks, the transition to online news sharing has now become a daily ritual of social participation, giving us visibility and belonging in an increasingly noisy world (p. 9). Twitter and Facebook encourage users to distribute content and spread awareness across the diverse spectrum of consumers in order to create conversations on popular topics. Stories, photographs, and videos continue to emerge as building blocks of the collapsed network of content, reaching an exponential community of participants. Boczkowski (2013) observes that nowadays much of the news encountered by young people is considered ‘incidental news’ that they come across as a result of scrolling through their social feed rather than through deliberately accessing a trusted news brand (Martin, 2019, p. 37). As users interact with their personal social media accounts, news stories are constantly visible and available for collaboration which creates a level of socialisation around content sharing and influences individuals who may not be interested in seeking out news services to gain insight into what is being talked about on either a global scale or within their community.  

My Facebook Feed; 7 News Story
My Facebook feed; 7 News Story – ‘incidental news’
Image: Screenshot

The dynamics of social media has transformed the news industry, where journalists now rely on powerful platforms to become discoverable and for effective diffusion of their work. As opposed to traditional media communications, there is now a simplified online environment for content sharing that encourages an unbounded, participatory culture and spreads news vastly and rapidly. 

In addition, the cultural and economic environment has been radically altered by the transition to online sharing for social media platforms, users, and journalists. Today’s culture of sharing has become exponentially public where social media platforms now measure user intention through their interaction with digital content via algorithmic means, taking into account individuals likes, comments, shares, and clicks. Using cookies, Facebook meticulously profiles users to organise their feeds and target their perceived preferences. Martin (2019) argues that this process of data surveillance and exploitation by large corporations should be considered an economy in itself, remarking that social media users are participating in unpaid labour for the platforms, producing information that “feeds corporate analytics” (p. 96). The process of data extraction is explained in this short video by Privacy International – https://privacyinternational.org/video/1626/data-exploitation. As users interact with news content online, they are contributing to the sharing economy while indirectly constructing their own algorithm based on what they are consuming. In the past, traditional news sharing was not carefully curated to fit your best interests but rather passively received through select channels, however new technologies have allowed for this complex process to take place. The value of news is now mediated through social recommendations and news services can visually track popularity and worthiness of stories (Martin, 2019, p. 37). Hermida, Fletcher, Korell, and Logan (2012) suggest that news organisations and journalists are rushing into social media for opportunities in distribution as it allows them to easily calculate what stories are getting traction (p. 815). Based on this understanding, Olmstead (2011) proposes that knowing what content users want to consume and what they are likely to pass along is a key benefit for journalists because they have access to understanding the behaviours of their audience and can recognise how stories should be covered. The culture of information sharing in the new era has become an economically driven, public arena.

Lastly, while social media platforms and journalists play a role in controlling news sharing, the key holders of this new business model lies in the hands of consumers. Whether it’s a powerful individual or an ordinary person, users have become active producers and distributors of information. Lee and Ma (2012) describe the empowering nature of social media to allow users to, “create, share, and seek content, as well as to communicate and collaborate with each other” (p. 332). Firstly, users benefit from having the freedom to personally interact with news media and express opinions on important matters with their online community. Likewise, social media platforms economically benefit because users are spending more time scrolling through their feeds in search of entertainment and socialisation. And similarly, journalists benefit from studying user behaviour as they interact with this content because it directly indicates popularity. Unlike traditional media, the exchange of communication between news and the recipient is visible in an online environment. However in recognising the opposing side, the affordance of free sharing can also lead to inappropriate oversharing by some individuals. Martin (2019) uses the example of Youtube influencer Logan Paul who put up a video of a body hanging from a tree in Japan, intending to create awareness around suicide prevention (p. 1).

Logan Paul at the MTV Movie Awards (2015)
Logan Paul on the red carpet at the 2015 MTV Movie awards
Image: by Phil McCarten/Reuters – The Atlantic article “The Social Media Star and the Suicide”

This post was extremely offensive to many of his followers, and went against Youtube’s code of ethics. This occurrence, along with many others, highlights that user control over content distribution comes with its disadvantages. Furthermore, the rampant circulation of fake news stories are a product of the transition to online news sharing. Hunt Alcott and Matthew Gentzkow (2017) discuss this phenomenon in relation to the 2016 US presidential campaign where they found 115 pro-Trump false news stories on social media that were shared by users a total of 30 million times (p. 212). The result of spreading misleading information, particularly involving political associations, causes people to believe what they are reading is true and compels them to share this information with others.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Image: by Michael Vadon is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The exponential distribution effect of content on social media makes it impossible for platforms to regulate everything that passes through. Misinformation has come to play a noticeable part in online culture and can be destructive to society at large. 

In conclusion, the transformative effects of social news sharing has become a critical part of today’s political, economic, and social culture. The movement from traditional media resources has critically adjusted the way people communicate and social media platforms now play an integral role in facilitating the exchange of content between users. Tracking user interactions has become a significant economic benefit for social media businesses due to the high public demand for understanding consumer behaviours and targeting future interests. Users now have remarkable control over the business of news diffusion which has led to benefits in communicative participation, however the affordance of public sharing has evidently created an increase in spreading offensive content and fake news.

 

Citations:

  1. Alcott, H., Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 election. In Journal of Economic Perspectives. 13(2). (pp. 211-236). 
  2. Hermida, A., Fletcher, F., Korell, D., Logan, D. (2012). SHARE, LIKE, RECOMMEND; Decoding the social media news consumer. In Journalism Studies. 13(5-6). (pp. 815-824).
  3. Kumpel, A. S., Kanowski, V., Keyling, T. (2015). News Sharing in Social Media: A review of current research on news sharing users, content, and networks. Social Media and Society. (pp. 1-14).
  4. Lee, S. C., Ma, L. (2012). News sharing in social media: The effect of gratifications and prior experience. In Computers in Human Behaviour. 28(2). (pp. 331-339)
  5. Martin, F. (2019) In the suicide forest: How social media news sharing is affecting news journalism. In Sharing News Online: Commendary Cultures and Social Media News Ecologies. Springer International Publishing. (pp. 1-37)
  6. Olmstead, K., Mitchell, A., Rosenstiel, T. (2011). Navigating News Online: where people go, how they get there, and what lures them away. Project for Excellence in Journalism. Pew Research Centre. (pp.1-30).

 

Embedded references:

  1. Deangelis, S. F. (2018). Artificial Intelligence: How Algorithms make Systems Smart. Wired. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/09/artificial-intelligence-algorithms-2/
  2. “Donald Trump Sr. at #FITN in Nashua, NH” by Michael Vadon is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
  3. Meyer, R. (2018, January 2). The Social Media Star and the Suicide. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/a-social-media-stars-error/549479
  4. “Newspapers B&W (3)” by NS Newsflash is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
  5. Privacy International. (2014, February 18th). Video: What is Data Exploitation? Retrieved from https://privacyinternational.org/video/1626/data-exploitation
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About Tallulah Gutman 4 Articles
Hi, my name is Lula and I am a second year student studying digital cultures and marketing.