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News and Media Literacy

How does social media affect news -- and vice versa?

The relationship between social media and the news is a cultural phenomenon that no one -- probably not even the CEOs of Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat -- ever predicted. According to Common Sense Media's report, News and America's Kids: How Young People Perceive and Are Impacted by the News, half of all kids 10–18 get their news from online media. While adding a social element to news has undoubtedly engaged more young people in current events, it's also created divisions, increased the spread of false information, and allowed people to avoid opposing points of views by remaining inside a social circle of like-minded friends.

But social media as both a source of news and a creator of news is here to stay. The dimension it's given to news has become vital. It's enabled more voices to be heard, more stories to be told, and more exposure to significant events to be shared. As with everything, there are pros and cons to the social aspect of news. Parents can help kids understand both the positive and negative effects of the relationship between social media and news to enable them to be well-informed participants.

Here are some of the elements social media brings to news and their pros and cons.

Citizen journalism.

  • Pro: Social media has allowed people to broadcast direct, first-person accounts of events without going through a reporter working for a news organization. This can be especially powerful in places where individual voices are oppressed, filtered, or simply not represented.
  • Con: Now that anyone can build a website or post any information they want, content creators are not necessarily reliable sources of information. Plus, this kind of coverage can be especially visceral and raw.

Friending, following, commenting.

  • Pro: Social media allows every individual to have a voice in the news through comments and posts. It can bring together people who share the same views.
  • Con: People tend to friend and follow others who believe the same things they do to the exclusion of other viewpoints. Using social media sites such as Facebook allows people to surround themselves (virtually) with others who agree and reinforce their ideas, which ultimately divides us.

Sharing.

  • Pro: Sharing is what makes social media so fun. It exposes you to more content, and you can see what your friends say about it.
  • Con: Sharing is so easy that people don't tend to explore the factual accuracy of what they share. Plenty of kids who have shared news through social media say that they later found out a story they shared was fake.

Immediacy.

  • Pro: Social media enables us to hear about current events while they're happening. When tragedies or natural disasters occur, friends and family can check themselves as "safe" so you don't have to worry.
  • Con: Immediacy -- and our expectation of it -- leads to stories being reported before we know all the facts.