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Journalism and social media

Chiponda ChimbeluOctober 29, 2014

From click-baits to crowdsourced news, social media has changed journalism. But whether the ability to share and spread information is changing what news people read remains a question - particularly outside the US.

Young woman on a couch with her laptop
Image: Photographee.eu - Fotolia

The influence of Facebook is especially felt in journalism -the social network and search engine Google are responsible for directing at least two out of five visits to news websites in the US, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. And despite evidence of young people leaving Facebook or doing less on it in favor of other social networks, media consumption habits on the site can shed more light on how social media is affecting the news we get and what we read.

About one in four Americans have hidden, blocked, unfriended or stopped following someone on Facebook because they disagree with their posts, according to Pew. This means that every time they log onto Facebook, they are less likely to see posts from people they disagree with. And this habit is helping fuel political polarization in the US - that was one of the main takeaways of the Pew study.

Germany less social

It is is hard to say whether media habits in the US are a good reflection of trends in other countries. In Germany, most of the traffic to the leading news websites is a result of direct visits - people typing in the address themselves. But this isn't the case for media targeting young Germans. More than one in two visitors to sites like BuzzFeed, Neon or Freitag, which target young people, are referrals from social media, according to media blogger Konrad Lischka whose data is based on figures from SimilarWeb.

The future is clearly social for journalism, according to Jeremy Galbraith, CEO of the European operations of PR agency Burson-Marsteller. This trend is only going to increase, he says.

"Young people [in Germany] do not trust social networks like they do in the US," says Michael Klemm, a media studies professor and researcher at the University of Koblenz.

Brasilien Midia Ninja Social Media Bürgerjournalismus
Image: MidiaNINJA

"I don't think that Facebook is so influential as it is in other mainly English-speaking countries," he adds.

Does social media polarize news consumption?

Traditional (older) names tend to be more trusted than some of the newer media companies that may also rely more on traffic from social media. In fact, despite being very popular on social media, BuzzFeed is the least trusted source on the list. And the behavior of young Germans also shows a higher level of trust for traditional media despite their use of Facebook and other social works for getting news, according to Professor Klemm.

​"They see first of all the news on Facebook, and then they go to the classical media," he says.

The consumers still decide who they trust.

"I always think that there is a very healthy future for the best news organizations whether they are broadcasters or print for a very simple fact: You know what you are reading or what you are seeing,​" says Burson-Marsteller's Galbraith.

Garbage in, Garbage outDespite coming under a lot of criticism during the protests in Ferguson in August -- for displaying more content on the Ice Bucket Challenge --Facebook unlike Twitter, which relies heavily on an algorithm for its newsfeed, was only doing what it has been programmed to, and that is to display items based on what the user has liked or commented.

​"I don't think that fundamentally things have changed in terms of what people read,​" says Galbraith. "The challenge is information overload.​"