The Impact of Speed, Engagement of Social Media on Journalism

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The Impact of Speed, Engagement of Social Media on Journalism

Sep 15, 2023

Scroll, stop, click, repeat. Those are the key actions that people do on a regular basis with their social media apps. Headlines, photographs, illustrations and designs matter more than ever in getting someone to stop and click on an article. A snappy headline could reel someone in, a shocking photo or even a cool design could impact if a person reads or even just looks at a journalist’s work. Once a piece of journalism peaks their interest, they can engage with the material in a way that was impossible before social media. This layer of engagement in social discourse elevates journalism and also is cause for concern.  

Speed is one of the biggest factors when considering social media’s impact on journalism. The speed at which we scroll and get through content is faster, which also means information is spread faster too. Stories and posts of news highlights are prevalent in a social media user’s feed which leads to those users then clicking and engaging themselves. Consequently, the rate of engagement also increases with social media which has an impact on the topic of distribution. Certain articles are going to get more eyes on it as they are pushed to the masses both by the public themselves and by these social media apps helping spread awareness about its contents. Unfortunately, this also means other topics are going to get less eyes on them and less attention than others. This case of imbalance raises an ethical concern of the public getting an improper scope of the news around them.

Possibly even the level of engagement is lower with journalism through social media even if the numbers are higher. Usually article posts include the lead, nutgraf and bright quote of the article or even less. Essentially, only a tiny fragment of the full length piece. Some, if not most, people only read and see what’s on an Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook post instead of clicking to the link that takes them to the full piece. This quick scroll, click, and scroll could contribute to misunderstanding of a topic and thus inaccuracies in someone’s spreading of the information.

Social media affects the quality of engagement too. Users can give their own commentary both in comment sections and in their own posts which creates both meaningful and harmful information while also possibly even spreading misinformation that is damaging to journalistic truth and integrity. Since open comment sections allow users to say close to anything they want, this can lead to nasty interactions or false information put into these comments. Simultaneously, it’s important to consider that people also have the opportunity to share their own opinions and experiences that might benefit another user’s interaction with the piece of journalism.

Along with the topic of the public’s engagement with journalism, accuracy issues arise when non-legitimate sources start producing journalistic content such as podcasts, TikTok videos, or blogs based on their often limited knowledge of a topic. Again, misinformation here acts as a threat to journalistic accuracy. With social media giving way to inaccuracies, the public has a greater need to check their sources and to seek legitimate news sources along with social media content creators and influencers.

As we enter a more digital world run by social media, print journalism is also threatened. The convenience of social media allows people to get the same information that print provides at a lower price point,  faster, and more efficiently. Even if this is technically not a threat to ethics, it still has a negative impact on people such as myself who appreciate the artistry of print newspapers and magazines. It also begs the question of print journalism’s longevity and feasibility  in a digitized world.

Jackie Lopez, 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." Jackie is majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Art and Multimedia design.

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