So now it’s official. According to new data from Pew Research, adults in the US got their news from social media more often than print newspapers in 2018.
The Pew data shows that 20 per cent of Americans got their news from social media, versus 16 per cent who got it off newspapers.
Still, social media and newspapers were the least common ways to get news. The Pew research showed that 49% of adults got their headlines from watching CNN or Fox News. Coming in second were news websites at 33%. Then comes radio, with 26% of US adults reportedly still listening for timely updates.
These figures would be the same in every market where newspapers are struggling, including Australia.
Off course, none of this is surprising. Everyone knows that social media has become a major force in the spreading of information.
But information isn’t the same as the discipline of journalism. And this trend does point to a growing potential for spreading misinformation. More people relying on digital platforms for headlines means there’s more room for fake news to run amok.
And social media is now spreading a lot of misinformation.
In recent times, we have seen a network of Facebook troll accounts operated by the Myanmar military spreading hateful rhetoric against Rohingya Muslims.
Facebook has also spread viral misinformation about Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
It also comes at a time when small changes to how Facebook organizes its News Feed can radically change a news organization’s bottom line. Layoffs and hiring sprees have been triggered by the whims of the algorithm.
The hegemony of Google and Facebook over digital advertising — estimated by some to be a combined 85 percent of the market — is strangling journalism and putting newspapers under pressure.
We’ve learned that these coordinated misinformation can change the course of elections and genocides.
This is much more important than the threat to newspapers. It’s about democracy.