From Gateway to Purveyor: How Social Networks Are Changing the News

by Matt Klassen on July 17, 2015

Over the last several months social networks like Facebook and Twitter have increasingly turned their attention towards the news, attempting to make it easier for media firms to post their content on the networks and easier for users to interact with the content. While many (including myself) have decried the death of independent news, as invariably the most important stories of the day will become less about content and more about ‘clicks,’ a recent report by the Pew Research Center and the Knight Foundation makes it clear that social networks have long been in the news business, it just took them until now to figure it out.

According to the report, for the last two years there has been a consistent increase in the number of people who got news from their social networks. In fact, almost two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents said they got news from Twitter and/or Facebook, an 11 percent and 16 percent increase since 2013 for each network respectively.

It’s really no wonder than that those social networks are looking to get into then news business; the truth is they’ve accidentally been in it for years anyways. As the report states, user interaction with news on social networks has long had an ‘accidental’ quality to it–that users go to their networks for something else and stumble across the news–and that is something Facebook and Twitter are now working to change.

According to the report, while the vast majority of respondents get news from social networks, less than 10 percent indicated that Facebook or Twitter was their primary source of news. In fact, 60 percent indicated that social networks were not an important source of news.

Such findings imply that Facebook and Twitter still stand as media go-betweens, places, as I mentioned, where users encounter the news, and still view traditional media sources (and their websites) as important places to actually get the news.

“People encounter news in this space, as opposed to going there seeking news,” Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew, told TechNewsWorld. “They’re going to a social network to do something else — and when they’re there, they come across news.”

It is this accidental encounter with the news that Facebook, in particular, is trying to change, several months ago unveiling its Instant Articles service that would allow news media to post their articles directly on Facebook, cutting load times and, ideally, increasing advertising revenue. The move comes as part of Facebook’s greater plan to become the Internet for the vast majority of the human race, hoping, in some sort of nightmarish embodiment of The Eagles’ Hotel California, that the more things it offers users in the Facebook ecosystem, the less reason users will have to leave.

“Facebook wants to be the Web for all its users,” John Carroll, a mass communications professor at Boston University, told TechNewsWorld. “The more they can house content on the Facebook platform, the better they like it, because they can retain their users longer and mine more data from them.”

In the end the takeaway from this is that while social networks are a source of news, they serve as more of a gateway, a place where people come across relevant news and from there are able to explore it further. Facebook and Twitter want to change this, shifting from the place people stumble across the news to the place where people get the news, and if they accomplish this it could radically change how important news information is conveyed.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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