The Impact of Social Media on Journalism

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The Impact of Social Media on Journalism

Sep 22, 2023

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Make a cup of coffee, take a morning walk, or check social media? Personally, no matter what activity I am doing I still find myself looking through all my social media accounts to catch up on content I missed while I was asleep.

It is apparent, as consumers' social media have become an integral part of our daily routine and we rely on it to gather information. The integration of social media in digital journalism has allowed content to be shared and delivered faster, made easily accessible, reduced printing cost, and increased different types of medium for broadcast journalism such as livestream and podcast. In 2022 article, “ U.S. journalists' views of social media and experiences with harassment,” published by PewResearch reported “Among journalists who use social media for their jobs, nearly nine-in-ten (87%) say it has a very or somewhat positive impact on their ability to promote stories, while about eight-in-ten say it helps their ability to connect with their audience and find sources for stories (79% each).” Due to the influence social media has on modern journalism, many journalists find a need to hop onto multiple platforms and even master the various applications as part of their “social media diet.” According to PewReach,  “…69% of journalists say Twitter is their first or second most used social media site, while about half (52%) put Facebook in their top two. Smaller shares say Instagram (19%), LinkedIn (17%) or YouTube (14%)…” In short, whether journalists have to hop onto social media platforms in order to keep their career upfloat but even when they do, it is a big market with many competitors.

On the other hand, social media platforms have allowed for the average John Doe to become a journalist. For instance, in 2020 many in attendance of the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter Protests have covered the event in real time, revealing the injustice and brutality being inflicted upon them via social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. In addition, in the recent Maui wildfire, victims of Lāhainā released video footage of people escaping the fire through jumping in the open ocean and historical landmarks lost in the fire. However, with the increase in journalists on social media platforms, the public have to be more conscious of who they are obtaining the information from because not everyone is a credible source. Additionally, journalists are focused on being the first to break the news and pressed on time in delivering news in a timely manner which can reduce the accuracy of the information presented.

Although social media platforms are great mediums to utilize for media coverage it’s not always reliable and raises data collection concerns. For example, in recent years Facebook was in a lawsuit and TikTok was under fire for collecting data from their users and selling it to other organizations. Furthermore, just last year, Elon Musk bought Twitter, now known as “X,” causing major brands, organizations and even regular users to all together halt their activity on the platform. Twitter holds a crucial significance in today's communication because “World leaders use Twitter to communicate, journalists use Twitter to newsgather, dissidents in repressive countries use Twitter to organize, celebrities and major brands use Twitter to make important announcements, and the public uses Twitter to often monitor all of it in real-time,” CNN stated in the article “Twitter is the world's digital public square. What happens if it dies?”. Hence, due to the loss of communication on Twitter, journalists have struggled to find and pivot to other platforms such as sports and esport coverage.

Undoubtedly, there are many benefits in the rise of digital journalism, but in return it has become a powerful tool in influencing what the public focuses on and desensitizes consumers. To elaborate, a few months ago, the Titan submersible went missing with 5 billionaires on board, social media outlets covered the story closely and even influenced content creators on TikTok to give their two cents. However, around the same time the Titan went missing the Adriana, a Greek migrant boat lost power leading hundreds of refugees to their death in the middle of the Black Sea. The media was controlling what story the public should pay attention to and however long they needed the attention to be on the story. This is because, after it was revealed the Titan had imploded, the public had realized information was being withheld and slowly disseminated in order to hold their attention as long as possible while there were other important events occurring.

Apart from ethical issues that arise from social media, journalists should pay attention to privacy, defamation, and intellectual property rights to avoid lawsuits. In a 2018 article, published by the Washington Post, Amber Heard stated she is a victim of sexual violence amidst the #MeToo movement. As a result, Johnny Depp filed a lawsuit against Heard because she had indirectly suggested Depp was the abuser. This case was heavily covered by the media because the court had allowed for cameras to be in the courtroom. As the two former married couples went through a public lawsuit, the world was watching the lawsuit unfold, treating it as a form of entertainment or soap opera.

Queeny Zhang, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "The Impact of Social Media on Journalism: Discuss how social media has changed the landscape of journalism, the pros and cons, and the legal and ethical issues that arise." Queeny is a Public Relations major.

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