The Rise and Crash of Social Media News Cred

Well, that escalated quickly.

According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, people are wary of the role social media plays in delivering the news, on a platform that is less than 15 years old.

Yet “[i]t took years, hundreds of years in the case of print and ink on paper, before people were wary of the role newspapers, magazines, and even television play in delivering the news to their audience,” notes Samir “Mr. Magazine” Husni.

Husni recently interviewed Elisa Shearer, lead research associate for the study, to break down what they learned in their research.

“Elisa said that while people do use social media for their news, it’s not necessarily for its validity,” Husni writes. “Convenience, quickness, and the fact that breaking information can usually be found in a matter of seconds after it happens, would appear to be some of the main reasons people gravitate toward their social media when it comes to consuming news.”

Shearer says she is not surprised that people are getting more of their news from social media even though they are wary of its validity, noting that we’ve seen this trend building.

“Last year we saw the majority of social media news users who thought that the news they were going to see was largely inaccurate,” she continues. “But when we asked about the reasons why they were using social media for news, a lot of them cited the convenience; they liked interacting with people; it was useful for getting breaking news, so we know some of the reasons that people are turning to these sources even though they’re very pessimistic about it.”

Given this reasoning, it comes as no surprise that Facebook is the largest gateway to news for consumers:

It’s a conundrum for sure. We don’t necessarily trust the news we find online, but we keep going back for more. Shearer also notes that most people say “they know that social media companies are treating some news organizations differently than others. And most people said they kind of see them prioritizing companies that produce attention-grabbing articles or that have a lot of social media followers.”

Most online news consumers also feel social media platforms have too much control over what news people see, resulting in a worse mix of news for users:

If anything, it proves to me that social media has successfully cracked the code to behavioral modification; they’ve made it almost impossible for us to look away. (Some Silicon Valley insiders have been quite vocal about this.)

What this study can do is shine a light on our collectively odd behavior around social media news; perhaps seeing it reflected back like this may make it easier to seek out sources of reliable journalism and not rely on what’s being forced fed to us. A free press is well worth the cost.