Much has been made of the seeming decline of mainstream media. When there were fewer television channels, new broadcasts were watch by millions, always scheduled at the same time and, by and large, they were the gatekeepers of what made the lead stories and how those news stories were framed. Of course, one network would necessarily have different editorial positions and nuanced ways of delivering the same news but all in all, it was the mainstream media that shaped global news consumption.
Whether it is the latest story about the political downfall of a world leader, or wild speculations as well as well-thought-out analysis about players futures in various leagues, NFL playoff early picks, etc. Social media is now often the place where people learn about news and information, even if they still consume things from mainstream media sources alongside that. Though the younger generation are increasingly eschewing mainstream networks, there are still millions who use and trust these sources whether that be on television or online.
Indeed, most mainstream media companies have invested time and money into developing their social media presence. This is both an attempt to build a new audience as well as to compete with the plethora of online news sources that are now so readily available both locally and globally. But does this really mean that social media networks such as Twitter, TikTok, Buzzfeed or Facebook, to name but a few of the players, are not just reporting the news but shaping the very narrative that we are being asked to accept as the gospel truth? It is not an easy one to answer, but we can at least try.
Social Media Continues To Both Inform and Misinform
Since it became ubiquitous, used by millions around the world, social media has been employed for many reasons, and utilised by people for even more reasons. Whether it is a professional digital online mobile platform to promote a business or simply a personal blog platform that shares views and information on a particular topic, having a social media presence has become both commonplace and, for many, a profitable endeavour. But with this profusion of social media news outlets and platforms comes the danger that not all information disseminated on them is necessarily accurate or fact checked.
To be fair, it would not be right to suggest that social media news platforms are not, at least in the majority of cases, purveyors of accurate reporting, dependable facts, and fact-checked information that stands up journalistic and editorial scrutiny. That said, as with any noble pursuit, there are those who would and do use it for either nefarious reasons or, at the very least, in a way that is cavalier rather than careful in terms of publishing news stories.
We have all heard about the phenomena that is misinformation, and often that is associated with the less savoury people or platforms that share social media with the more legitimate sources. Whereby it is mainly the true, factual, and honest information on social media that shapes narratives, there are times when misinformation leads to alternative narratives and even conspiracy theories, making it a pernicious and powerful force as well as a good one. We can, thankfully hope and say that information via social media is largely true in terms of news outlets, but that does not mean that there are elements that would seek to contradict or perhaps counteract that journalistic or published decency.
Audience Approval Versus Media Company Censorship
Attracting, informing and growing the audience are all equally important facets of social media news outlets. Another element of these platforms is the need to create content that passes the often-stringent rule and regulations that oversee social media output. There is, of course, a fine line to be carefully trodden by social media companies, namely the right to allow and defend free speech but also to ensure certain lines are not crossed, such as inciting violence through hate speech, for example.
In the search for audience numbers, clicks, subscriptions and general popularity, news platforms and social media companies often push the envelope and even court controversy to gain from the going viral notoriety it can encourage. Though this can build audiences in some cases, it can also destroy company reputations, which is why walking the tightrope of content censorship is such a perilous one. With the mainstream media, regulations are more strictly adhere to and enforced, where social media and online content in general can be much more difficult to police.
Returning to the main thesis of this article, it is hard to deny that there are social media outlets, platforms and particularly influential individuals with global online presences that can and do shape certain news stories and the attendant and associated narrative. In their quest to tap into the largest of all audiences, the global online one, these people can go beyond the mainstream media and, in turn, become as popular if not more so when it comes to being the source of news and director of editorial content.