Social media’s role in news

Social media has, for the most part, changed the way everyone views and consumes news. Whereas people used to be required to tune in to the evening news or read a daily newspaper for the scoop, anyone today can subject themselves to a 24-hour barrage of news with TVs, computers, phones, and more. Hell, you can get news on your watch!

With the advent of social media, news became more instantaneous than it had ever been in the past. People can tweet from anywhere at any time to share a recent event. Obviously, members of the media got in on that, and Twitter has quickly become one of the best news sources in the world.

Social media is without a doubt the fastest way to get your news now. As soon as someone catches word of something, journalists and publications fire off a tweet or post with a “BREAKING” tag or otherwise, and everyone immediately has it in front of their face.

News is also easily updated on social media. You can generally link posts to others, or comment on originals, so additional information can be added at any time, regardless of when it is acquired. Updating social media posts generally bumps them up to the top of peoples’ feeds, which keeps everyone up to date.

One really interesting concept that social media has facilitated and made more relevant is crowdsourcing. While reporters have always been able to hit the streets and find people to comment on stories, social media has made the practice easier and more effective. Publications can prompt their followers to share their stories, then all they have to do is pick the best of them and insert them into the story. It’s also totally reasonable to make entire stories using crowdsourcing.

The downside to using social media in news, though, is that it’s really easy to come up with completely fabricated news. The more outlandish and flagrant it is, the faster it will spread. This is why places like the AP always attribute their breaking news to a source, so that if the news ends up being untrue, they aren’t responsible for it. And how!

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Shattered Glass and Fabulation

In a way, it’s fortunate that Stephen Glass made up his stories and got caught when he did. He fabricated upwards of 30 stories for The New Republic in an age when the internet couldn’t really get ahold of him and run with it. If he had done the same thing ten years down the line, he could have done irreparable damage to the publication. People look for reasons to resent publications (look at Kotaku, for example) and a bunch of made up stories is as good of a reason as any.

Anyways, the primary take of “Shattered Glass” is that everyone is a whole lot better off if you don’t lie in everything you write. This only becomes more true as time goes on. Regardless of how many people you fool with phony stories, there’s always going to be at least one skeptic that looks in to your content. It’s constantly getting easier to fact check things as well. Search engines are now the base of the internet, and what could be considered the most cursory of searches today could have stopped Glass long before he could do the damage that he did. So when you make things up, you’ll get caught, your publication will get in trouble, your friends and peers will catch hell for not realizing it, and journalism will look bad as a whole. When something of this nature happens, it reflects poorly on everyone.

Another takeaway is that you should be more skeptical of the stories you read and hear, as if you’re not constantly finding new reasons to do that as it is. As mentioned earlier, EVERYONE looks bad if someone pushes BS through your publication, even if you had nothing to do with it. In “Shattered Glass,” Stephen Glass looked bad, both editors looked bad, even the guy in the sweater who didn’t really have a presence in the movie at all until they wrote the apology letter looked bad. They might not have been able to look too deeply into source material in the ’90s, but anyone can today, and it’s the best idea for everyone involved.

The final, and potentially most important, takeaway is that you just cannot trust Hayden Christensen’s characters at all. First, we thought he was the chosen one, and you know how that turned out? With a bunch of dead younglings and no Alderaan. He literally blew up a planet for information that he didn’t even get from Leia. Information that, if we learned anything from “Shattered Glass,” he could have totally just made up. Everyone would have gone on with it until Emperor Palpatine got fired and a new emperor came in and realized that the rebels weren’t actually on Dantooine, but instead on one of the Yavins or something.