Is social news sharing too often used that we are now exploiting it?

Social media plays a pivotal role in distributing news since it is easy to use for both the media organization and the average social media. The idea of using social media for news sharing gained momentum after 2004, which is the year Facebook, the largest social media site, was launched, and other social media entities such as Myspace and LinkedIn were growing in popularity (Kümpel et al., 2015). The attractiveness of these social media platforms and the ease in accessing and sharing information have played a significant role in social news sharing. Some people may never access the news if they did not engage with social media because of the decline in mainstream media engagement.

Social news sharing

Social news sharing alters how the audience engages with news and has a significant impact on their news sharing behaviour. It increases people’s interest in a particular news story, and these stories get more exposure as people repeatedly share them (Kümpel et al., 2015). Furthermore, as people read and comment on these news articles, they also influence how people think about particular issues (Oeldorf-Hirsch & Sundar, 2015). They encounter different opinions and ideas that can potentially skew them towards a particular perspective. This approach is incredibly useful during political mobilisation as individuals and organizations turn to social media to facilitate sharing news articles that further their agenda.

Therefore, these people need to target the right audience and facilitate changes in their news sharing behaviour, reaching an even wider audience.  Media organizations ensure this by engaging content through features such as images, simple vocabulary, and links. A study showed that including audio and video and embedded links increases the number of shares (Khuntia et al., 2016). It is also important to note that media companies also benefit economically, as social media users share the news articles. They work together with social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter through algorithms that determine news exposure to the different users’ feeds (Thorson, 2020). To a large extent, social websites determine the impact of news sharing by first determining the exposure to these news stories. The algorithm can either highlight or downplay the news shared on the websites. Overall, both the media companies and social websites benefit economically through the increased traffic caused by sharing news.

Social news sharing also highlights the misinformation that challenges information management. The primary motivation of social news sharing is encouraging engagement, and sometimes, people may take advantage of this and spread false information. Evidence from a study on misinformation shows a positive relationship between the need to debate and misinformation sharing (Chadwick et al., 2018). As people engage more with social news articles, they share more information to support their decision that is skewed to their understanding, thus increasing the circulation of false information on the internet. Therefore, many people have factually incorrect political beliefs, and social media has not yet evolved to a point where it can successfully prevent this. An example of this is a recent tweet by Donald Trump that misinterpreted a situation and spread the wrong narrative (Trump, 2020).

This challenge remains visible even with measures taken to mitigate the spread of misinformation. People still share false news, and social networks such as Twitter uses its moderators to label false information and prevent users from engaging with it (BBC News. 2020). Despite such measures, Facebook still faces challenges in controlling the spread of misinformation as inaccurate information about politics spreads faster on the social network (Travers, 2020). During the 2016 elections, the spread of false information reached its peak as untrustworthy websites leveraged the polarized situation to misdirect voters. A study showed that 57% of Trump supporters were more likely to engage with misinformed news articles than 28% of Clinton supporters (Guess et al., 2020). Overall, the user does not benefit but acts as a pawn in the hands of the social network websites and the media organizations that are all keen on increasing engagement on their platforms and influencing people to think a certain way. The solution lies in instituting policies that prevent the spread of misinformation while safeguarding the engagement and sharing of news.

Net Neutrality

As social news sharing calls for regulation to promote the safe sharing of information free from any bias, net neutrality seeks to remove all regulations while using the internet. Net neutrality is a concept that calls for an open network design from all internet service providers that carry data without any discrimination regarding the platform used, software, and other relevant factors (Wu, 2003). The debate on net neutrality has been in existence for many years with an extensive history in the United States of America regarding how to handle this problematic issue. In the past, the issues surrounding net neutrality revolved around problems such as bans when using virtual private networks or Wi-Fi routers. When they used this technology, they were subjected to slower speeds, and this can affect the process of innovation through discrimination.

An internet service provider can easily skew access to the information favouring them or their partners, making this connection faster while slowing down the internet speed for another website (Ellis, 2020). The unreliable connection can discourage people from visiting a particular website, thus affecting the website’s goals regarding user engagement. All internet service providers need to assume a neutral position to give all websites an equal chance and allow users to access the information they need. Creating this level field allows the companies behind different websites to benefit and provide the user with a pleasant experience.

Net neutrality in Australia is an ongoing debate with no end in sight. Companies formulate new strategies to control the people’s usage of the internet, and the users, on the other hand, demand protection from the internet service providers. There are no clear laws to promote net neutrality in Australia, even as Europe has managed to lay down these rules for the service providers to follow and ensure transparency while using the internet (Daly, 2014). The net neutrality laws in Australia fall under the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that prohibits companies from engaging in activities that can misuse their market power and negatively affect the customer’s experience. Although these laws are in place, they are not as effective as having specific rules towards this as the government is often caught by surprise as business owners in other sectors hike prices at will (Turner, 2014). It is not easy to regulate the marketing tactics of the different service providers tasked with providing internet to the different users across the country.

This critical issue in Australia takes on very subtle forms as the internet service providers are keen on limiting the amount of attention these changes may bring in the public eye. For instance, the recent attempt towards challenging the concept of net neutrality was the proposal by National Broadband Network to impose a tax on Netflix users and have users pay more for the service (Lane, 2019). This proposal would lead to the unfair treatment of consumers who prefer this streaming service. In 2014, ISP used a similar approach to limit monthly downloads through metered content with an opportunity to have unlimited downloads if the user subscribed to other products by the internet provider (Turner, 2014). If left unchecked, such moves will get bolder as different service providers coming together to implement changes that will leave few options for the consumer. It may take the form of the Google-Verizon pact that bypassed FCC regulations in the United States and throttled users’ internet traffic for their benefit (Pickard & Berman, 2019). The Australian government needs to act now and formulate clear policies that outline what the service providers can and cannot do to encourage net neutrality. As long as there are no clear laws, these companies will always find loopholes in the system and prevent net neutrality as they look out for their interests. They provide the service with the hope of turning a profit, and they will utilize every strategy they can to ensure that this happens. Having the law or policies as a guide will ensure that the customer benefits and gives them the freedom they need when accessing information and services on the internet.



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