The age of the world wide web, the internet and social networking is upon us, and in a big way. The way the average citizen gets his/her news has changed drastically. Half the people under 50 “often get news online1. For people under 30 it is the dominant source. For people over 50 TV remains the dominant source. Print newspapers continue a dramatic decline. 10% or less of those under 50 “often get news from print newspapers”. It is clear that online news is here to stay and with ever increasing usage.
“In 2012 there were total 2.4 billion internet users, while 1.4 Billion of those users were using social networking sites. Almost 50 percent of people regularly or occasionally hear about a breaking news story from social media before it appears on any official news sources.”2
Clearly we are experiencing a revolutionary change. We have seen revolutionary change in the way we obtain news in the past – the invention of the printing press, radio, television. The printing press came along in the mid 15th century. It took decades for the presses to be acquired by major cities in Europe and longer for printed books to become widely affordable and available. The internet was introduced about 1984. In a little over 30 years it has become pervasive in society. It has been reported that in 2013, on a typical day, 2 out of 3 people used Facebook to get news. Newspapers are migrating to digital online editions and alerts. For the younger generation is online is almost the exclusive source of news.
The change has been so fast that we have a huge generational gap. The young are online junkies. The older generation is still most comfortable with TV and newspapers. As a result young and old generations get their news from different sources. This is not a problem if the sources are consistent. TV and newspapers are professional news organizations. The internet and social media is very different. Anyone and everyone can publish whatever they want, truth or fiction. The result is the potential for major differences in beliefs. As time goes on the problem doesn’t get better. The internet will become pervasive, but since everyone is a potential consumer of news and a publisher of news, societal factions will support themselves with the news and views that they align with. The tribal factions will likely persist.
We have to acknowledge that we cannot fight a revolution. We have to adapt, but how?
Government regulation and censorship is a possibility – but this would trample free speech and along with it, the democracy. So if the internet and social media persist without undo restraints, the answer has to rest with society. The magic, if it exists, lies in encouraging and enabling people to think. Thinking takes time, education and motivation. This in turn implies many things – accessible and affordable education, financial stability without the stress of multiple low paying jobs, and strong sense of community to enforce common needs instead of self. This is a daunting challenge that will take a long time to realize. This, unfortunately, portends a stressful interim period.
- “Pathways to News”, Pew Research Center, http://www.journalism.org/2016/07/07/pathways-to-news/
- “Evolution of News Media and Social Media”, Digital Information World, http://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2014/02/social-media-has-changed-way-we-consume-news-infographic.html