Finding News on Social Media

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo  in WarsawBy Kristal Sotomayor

The endlessly packed schedule of college students leaves them little time to catch up on beloved TV shows read a newspaper or watch the news. So how do they learn about the world outside their campuses?

From sharing concert pictures to videos to news articles, social media is slowly becoming a source of news.

In 2013, the Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, conducted a survey to determine the percentage of the U.S. population that got news from Facebook. The survey found that 64% of U.S. adults used Facebook and that 30 % of U.S. adults got news from Facebook, of which 22% thought it was a useful source of news and 78% saw news on Facebook for different reasons.

Another survey also conducted by Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, in 2013 found that 16% of U.S. adults use Twitter. It also found that 8% of U.S. adults use Twitter to find news.

As social media use increases over time, a trend is developing among college students to use social media as a source of news and information.

“Before I had a fancy phone and I would use Twitter still but on my computer at home and I definitely used it less then… but now I can do it all of the time. It’s not that I sit and use if for an extended period of time but that throughout the day, I use it for just a few minutes a lot” says Joni Jeter, a first-year student at Bryn Mawr College.

As the username @smallspooky, Jeter uses Twitter to express herself and to learn about the world outside of Bryn Mawr. She specifically cites using Twitter to learn more about Michael Brown’s death at Ferguson, “I started following a lot of people that were there and then they would post Vines of what was happening, so there would be video and they would be reporting about what was going on. And, people took a lot of pains to be as reputable as a news source as they could be… We talk a lot like ‘Don’t trust anything you see on the internet’ like ‘Are you really getting your news from Twitter?’ but like this was one case were you really could do that.”

This trend among college students of using social media as a news source is also seen in article sharing.

Bryn Mawr College first year student Brittany Peña loves article sharing. She cites that it is the very reason she goes on Facebook. However, she does not always rely on shared articles stating, “A lot of the stuff on Facebook like the articles are opinions rather than factual data. So, it’s hard for me to trust opinions if I haven’t done the research.”

News on social media ranges from updates about a friend’s life to learning about celebrity gossip to learning about serious global events. This variety of news found on social media calls into question its reliability.

Lydia Sanchez, a Bryn Mawr College first-year student, says that “Social media is reliable to get a general story of what is going on but for details and actual events, it is false.”

Although social media and the internet can bring information at the fingertips of users, the need to verify information has increased.

Storyful is a website that acquires and verifies news from social media for other news outlets to use. In 2012, Storyful gave examples of false information that circulated the web that they debunked. YouTube videos of Aceh residents fleeing during an April 11th tsunami alert were found to be false. Also, a photo of a 2007 massacre was being circulated as the photo of a police officer that was killed at Virginia Tech in December of 2011.

Although the reliability of social media as a source of news is questionable, Jetter offers another point of view: “I don’t know how solid a source of information it [social media] is, what’s good about it, I think, is that you can see what’s relevant to people. If you just get on the New York Times or the BBC website or something, you have to sort through it on your own… but if you get on social media, people are sharing things that they thought were important so you can see what’s relevant to people you interact with, not that you shouldn’t read news that it’s relevant to them.”

Social media was created to connect people together but, as time has passed, the purpose of social media has greatly expanded. This new trend among college students of searching for, sharing, and learning news and information through the use of social media has added to its dimensions. However, as this trend escalates, the validity of information shared on social media should be considered.