We have gone from the information age into the disinformation age

Figure 1. Fake news on social media. Image: Sarah Hanson, All Rights Reserved.

The emergence of the Internet has created a revolution in information dissemination and communication. As it developed into the Web 2.0 era, it started to emphasize the participatory culture. Social media as the key innovation has provided a platform for users to collaborate for content production and sharing. Online sharing brings the general public equal rights of expression, as it is focusing on the interaction between users, sharing, dissemination, socialization, breaking the traditional one-way communication methods, and achieving multi-directional communication.

Figure 2. Mind map of Web 2.0. Image: digiom, CC BY-SA 2.0

Over the past years, from Facebook and Snapchat to WhatsApp and Twitter, social media have become increasingly interwoven into the fabric of people’s everyday life (Swart, J., Peters, C., & Broersma, M., 2019, p.187).

Figure 3. Social media platforms. Image: AlvyCC BY 2.0

Online news sharing has altered the way the audience is engaging with news (Kümpel, A., Karnowski, V., & Keyling, T., 2015, p,1). In addition to the change in the definition of news sharing, the way that the internet has transformed is a reflection of a much wider change in society (Brown, R., 2009, p.2). Although it contributed in a variety of areas, on the other hand, we have moved away from having a tools-based technology environment to addiction and manipulation-based technology environment (The Social Dilemma, 2020), to a disinformation age.

The genesis of social news sharing

In 2004, the Internet exploded into its most decisive phase with the arrival of Web 2.0 (Brown, R., 2009, p.1) and the rise of social media has provided the public with a new platform for free expression. Content production and dissemination are no longer the patents of media reporters and editors. Social media platforms are getting popular and further highlight the connective potentialities of news and draw attention to news users’ interpersonal communication practices (Swart, J., Peters, C., & Broersma, M., 2019, p.189). In the traditional media environment, ‘news’ emphasizes content and involves a media-centered production pattern.

Figure 4. Social media vs. Traditional media. Image: IsaacMao, CC BY 2.0

Oppositely, in social media the news is a product with communication value, sharing value, and reproduction value. Moreover, with the trend of social media, the news value starts to focus on user experience. Thus, to define news sharing, is the practice of giving a defined set of people access to news content via social media platforms, as by posting or recommending it (Kümpel, A., Karnowski, V., & Keyling, T., 2015, p.2).

 

 

 

Trends in communication media

Due to the convenient and easy-to-use tools for posting content, social media also simplifies and facilitates news sharing, both for media organizations and individuals (Kümpel, A., Karnowski, V., & Keyling, T., 2015, p.1). For instance, Facebook’s share and Twitter’s retweet function further facilitate users to share the news.

Figure 5. Social media button. Image: seanrnicholsonCC BY-ND 2.0

Besides, the uncovered difference of platforms can perhaps be traced to differences in use, while Twitter is typically used for breaking news (Kalsnes, B., & Larsson, A., 2018, p.1683) or hard news, whereas Facebook is mainly used for social purpose and sharing concerns about local issues and soft news as a means to facilitate the community in the Facebook group of the neighbors (Swart, J., Peters, C., & Broersma, M., 2019, p.200). As studies have shown, people may share news to gain reputation or followers, to draw people’s attention, and thus to attain status among peers or other users and other motives can be entertainment or escapism (Kümpel, A., Karnowski, V., & Keyling, T., 2015, p.6). Thus, news sharing can be seen as part of the “front stage” performances of social media users. In this way, we can regard news sharing on social media platforms as a mediated performance of sorts (Kalsnes, B., & Larsson, A., 2018, p.1683).

Transformative effects

1. Politics

Social media, like traditional media, plays an important role in political mobilization. Due to platform affordances, messages are amplified quickly through diverse media platforms and become a steady source of political content for news outlets with large audiences (Owen, D., 2018). Media represents the fourth power in a state and offers all the political leaders a high opportunity to make them visible for the population (SorinTerchilă., 2014, p.189). Allows politicians to shape one’s public image.

Figure 6. Obama’s social media campaign. Image: Ian Wilkinson, All Rights Reserved

For instance, during the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama’s social-media strategy revolutionized campaigning by altering the structure of political organizing (Owen, D., 2018).

Figure 7. Donald Trump’s Twitter. Image: torbakhopper, CC BY-ND 2.0

Moreover, Donald Trump’s use of Twitter enabled him to communicate directly with the public, manage his political allies and critics in stages, and control the news agenda.

2. Economy

Nowadays, the number of independent online outlets for political and commentary have been experiencing substantial growth, potentially signalling a challenge to the existing traditional media (Gordon, J., Rowinski, P., & Stewart, G., 2013, p.183). Online news sites increasingly rely on these referrals from social media to improve their website traffic, article views, and ultimately their economic success (Kümpel, A., Karnowski, V., & Keyling, T., 2015, p.1). In other words, technology companies are the biggest winner in this era. On the negative side, government and other bad actors weaponizing social media have led to real, offline harm (The Social Dilemma, 2020), as well as the growth in fake news.

False information makes companies more money than the truth. THE TRUTH IS BORING. It is a disinformation for-profit business model (The Social Dilemma, 2020).

3. Social and Culture

The advent of the Internet has turned the world into a global village and made global information sharing more convenient. News sharing as a social and cultural practice which captures the attention of interested others and has a critical cultural function in an attention economy (Martin, F., 2019, p.28). In this participatory culture, exchanging news with others is fundamental to building and demonstrating social and cultural capital (Martin, F., 2019, p.35). Particularly, Facebook, which has enormous power as a global redistributor of news (Martin, F., 2019, p.91).

Figure 8. #Metoo movement on Twitter. Image: Megan Price, All Rights Reserved.

Not merely the ordinary people, micro-celebrities can achieve social exposures by sharing news, even more, to promote a social campaign. For instance, #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter

Figure 9. #BlackLivesMatter movement on twitter. Image: CNN Wire, All Rights Reserved.

 

movement, both brought a revolutionary change to our society. That said, our social and behavioral patterns are influenced and shaped by the media and news to some extent. Moreover, there is a diversity in the social sharing ecology including WeChat, Sina Weibo and KakaoTalk from non-western countries (Martin, F., 2019, p.51). However, the transmitted information can be either correct or false (SorinTerchilă., 2014, p. 185), and false information can be manipulative that will lead us into further polarization.

Problems in social news sharing

Since social media platforms have become the main field for news and public opinion dissemination, many people are now getting news from social media feeds and sharing them, which contributes to rampant political insularity, polarization (Owen, D., 2018). Moreover, the immediacy of digital media and algorithms are actually causing fake news and conspiracy theories to spread even faster. Algorithms determine user interest by their continuous clicks, however, for technology and media companies, this polarization is extremely efficient at keeping people online (The Social Dilemma, 2020), thus making commercial interests from this ‘stickiness’. Twitter and other social media in the age of Trump have advanced or even contributed to the proliferation of disinformation (Owen, D., 2018), fake news on Twitter spreads 6 times faster than true news (The Social Dilemma, 2020).

Figure 10. Pizzagate conspiracy protest. Image: Blinkofanaye, CC BY-NC 2.0

For instance, Pizzagate conspiracy theory in 2016, its origin and spread are groundless, and almost caused offline harm. Online sharing amplifies exponential gossip and exponential hearsay to the point that we don’t know what is true, no matter what issue we care about and that affects our real-world behavior and emotions without ever triggering people’s awareness (The Social Dilemma, 2020).

 

 

 

The scale and speed of fake news now in the context of the destabilization of the mainstream media is a current phenomenon (Mcdougall, J., Brites, M., Couto, M., & Lucas, C., 2019, p.205).

Concluding

Overall, the digital revolution has unfolded more rapidly and has had broader, deeper, and more transformative repercussions on the news industry than any prior transition in communication technology (Owen, D., 2018). Social media news sharing has become a powerful new force in digital news production (Martin, F., 2019, p.52), affecting the society in different aspects, politically, socially, economically and culturally.

Figure 11. Fake news statistics. Image: Statista, All Rights Reserved.

As a media student, this huge change in the news industry alters our way of getting information, and it does benefit students to access and research information in a more convenient way. However, because there is a mass of information online, which might ultimately lead to information disorder, make it hard to identify what is real, what is fake. After all, we need to have some shared understanding of reality (The Social Dilemma, 2020).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, R. (2009). Public relations and the social web : how to use social media and Web 2.0 in communications . Kogan Page.

Gordon, J., Rowinski, P., & Stewart, G. (2013). Br(e)aking the News Journalism, Politics and New Media (1st, New ed.). Peter Lang AG, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften.

Kalsnes, B., & Larsson, A. (2018). Understanding News Sharing Across Social Media: Detailing distribution on Facebook and Twitter. Journalism Studies (London, England), 19(11), 1669–1688. https://doi.org/10.1080/1461670X.2017.1297686

Kümpel, A., Karnowski, V., & Keyling, T. (2015). News Sharing in Social Media: A Review of Current Research on News Sharing Users, Content, and Networks. Social Media + Society, 1(2). https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305115610141

Martin, Fiona (2019) The Business of News Sharing, In Sharing News Online: Commendary Cultures and Social media News Ecologies. F.Martin and T.Dwyer. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mcdougall, J., Brites, M., Couto, M., & Lucas, C. (2019). Digital literacy, fake news and education / Alfabetización digital, fake news y educación. Cultura y Educacion, 31(2), 203–212. https://doi.org/10.1080/11356405.2019.1603632

Orlowski, J. (2020). The Social Dilemma [Film]. Exposure Labs Argent Pictures The Space Program: Netflix.

Owen, D. (2018). The past decade and future of political media: the ascendance of social media. Retrieved from https://www.bbvaopenmind.com/en/articles/the-past- decade-and-future-of-political-media-the-ascendanc e-of-social-media/.

SorinTerchilă. (2014). The activity of mass media companies in europe. The impact generated in the economic, social and politic systems. Procedia Economics and Finance. 16,, 182-189. doi:10.1016/s2212-5671(14)00790-4

Swart, J., Peters, C., & Broersma, M. (2019). Sharing and Discussing News in Private Social Media Groups: The social function of news and current affairs in location-based, work-oriented and leisure-focused communities. Digital Journalism, 7(2), 187–205. https://doi.org/10.1080/21670811.2018.1465351

Shihan Liu
About Shihan Liu 3 Articles
USYD student studying Digital cultures and Film studies.