The Big Read: Is Society Becoming Less Informed as Social Media Platforms Avoid Hard News?

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BAD NEWS FOR NEWSROOMS – BUT IS THERE A SILVER LINING?

According to those interviewed, the decision to further reduce the priority of news content on social media has longer-term ramifications for the news industry and consumers.

Some of them warned that changes in the social media landscape could herald lower quality news.

Ms Henson noted that social media users are not ready to read beyond the headlines and want to know immediately what is happening.

As such, newsrooms focus on grabbing consumers’ attention, to the detriment of their core journalism job of obtaining, attributing and verifying information before it is published or broadcast.

“Whenever (news outlets) say things like we need to digitize or learn how to engage readers, it seems like our goal is to try to grab attention, rather than give the eyes something to read. “said Ms Henson.

However, she said that one of the possible benefits of social media algorithms reducing their focus on news is that newsrooms could be encouraged to find ways to draw audiences directly to their websites by offering content. higher quality, rather than relying on social media platforms for referral traffic. .

In the case of information consumers, observers have pointed to the risk that society will become less informed if they continue to rely on social media for their information.

Dr Wu from NUS said that if the algorithm changes reducing the focus on the news are not communicated properly to the public, there is the risk that they will rely solely on social media for their daily news-taking. , under the mistaken belief that they are complete.

“It will create citizens who are uninformed about the important issues of the day and will harm the proper functioning of society in the long run,” she said.

“Meaningful participation in political and social life cannot be based on the consumption of entertainment-related news alone.”

On the other hand, if consumers are aware that social media platforms downplay news compared to other types of content, this could encourage audiences to turn to established and verified sources of information to obtain their information, Dr. Wu added. This would be a positive development as it would contribute to a more informed population and reduce the spread of misinformation.

News organizations may also see an increase in traffic to their websites or apps, as people realize that this is the only and best way for them to access news from established sources.

Therefore, having more viewership would mean more ad revenue and more resources for news outlets to produce good quality news content, about stories “worth clicking and potentially going viral”, he said. Dr Wu.

Ms Henson said she hoped news consumers would eventually tire of “all the fluff” that has come from social media over the years, and yearn for objective, moderate news.

She noted that there were probably more people reading the news during the COVID-19 pandemic when they realized the relevance of the news to their lives.

“There might be a time when people are so fed up with the frivolity (on social media) that they want to read something deeper, longer and better,” she said.

WHAT SOME SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS SAY

In response to TODAY’s questions, Facebook’s parent company, Meta, said news discovery is a “small part” of the Facebook experience for the majority of its users.

“In fact, links to news stories only make up about 4% of what people see in Feed and people tell us they don’t want political content to take over their experience,” said a Meta spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that Facebook renamed its “news feed” to “feed” in February to “better reflect the various types of content people see and interact with” on the feed.

“We’ve learned from the data that news and links to news content aren’t the reason the vast majority of people come to Facebook, and as a business, we can’t overinvest in areas that don’t. not match user preferences the most,” the spokesperson said.

YouTube TODAY referenced its blog by Mr. Cristos Goodrow, its VP of Engineering, which outlines how the platform approaches recommended videos.

Mr Goodrow said the platform’s recommendation system does not connect viewers to content through their social network, but rather predicts which videos a user wants to watch.

He noted that over the years an increasing number of viewers have turned to YouTube for news and information. While some viewers have indicated they are very happy with videos that perpetuate misinformation — like those claiming the Earth is flat — that doesn’t mean YouTube wants to recommend low-quality content.

As such, YouTube connects viewers to “high-quality information and minimizes the chances of them seeing problematic content,” he said.

In doing so, YouTube determines the authority of a video based on several factors, including its topic, the reputation of the speaker in the video, and the content.

“The higher the score, the more the video is promoted in terms of news and information content,” Mr. Goodrow said on the blog.

Although TikTok did not respond to questions from TODAY, its community guidelines state that its mission is “to inspire creativity and bring joy.”

Among the content prohibited by TikTok are those that are sexually explicit or depict weapons and drugs, as well as violent or graphic deaths and accidents.

This may reduce the discoverability of certain content or render videos ineligible for recommendation on its “For You” feed, in order to “maintain the trust and safety of its viewers”.

However, TikTok’s guidelines note that some content that would otherwise be removed under its guidelines may be in the public interest. For this content, exceptions may be allowed, such as if the video is educational, artistic, or allows for individual expression on a topic of social importance.

In its content guidelines issued to publishers, TikTok clarifies that news outlets must include elements such as their logo and banners in their videos, in order to identify the content as news.

TikTok also requires violent or graphic content, such as traffic accidents or physical violence, to be blurred. In content depicting criminal activity or firearms, newsrooms, where appropriate, should also state that such incidents are illegal and should be condemned.

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