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Social media, news bias and distrust—where we’re at now

by | Nov 9, 2017 | Analysis, Public Relations

On June 1, 1980, Ted Turner launched the Cable News Network (CNN), the world’s first 24-hour news network. CNN truly revolutionized how and when Americans consumed media. And that revolution continues today.

Just thinking about all the ways that we see our news is enough to make your head spin. From the Big Three traditional commercial news networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) and, later, Fox (the fourth network) to the still growing number of cable news networks (CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, Fox News, HLN, Bloomberg, ESPN) to the internet, we are certainly not lacking for information. And we can’t forget newspapers, blogs and radio programming.

News is literally everywhere—whether that news is presented objectively is another story

That’s where the internet—specifically social media—comes in. It’s no secret that Facebook and Twitter, two sites which are designed to connect people to one another online, have muddied the water even further. Exactly what percentage of Americans get their news from social media depends on what source you consult but, according to a 2016 Pew Research Report, 62 percent of our population now gets its news from social media in some form or fashion.

What’s more troubling than that statistic, however, is how easily social media can influence the way that we think. Why is that? Because more often than not we follow like-minded friends, organizations, causes and news networks. And with the click of a button, we can unfollow anyone or anything that we disagree with.

Self-selected news bias

By self-selecting the people and the information that we want to see, we are further informing an opinion or position that we already support and we are surrounding ourselves with a single perspective. That perspective is then reinforced by a simple like, share or retweet, as our algorithmic feeds start hitting us with content that supports our beliefs, interests or pursuits. In the process, we are consciously (or unconsciously) ignoring or suppressing ideas that are different from our own.

News bias divides our culture

For all the good that social media has created, it’s having a very dangerous effect on how we consume and interpret the news. We’re constantly walking around in an echo chamber of what we want to see, what we want to hear and what we want to read. And guess what? We repeat what we see, what we hear and what we read. But we don’t repeat what we don’t see, what we don’t hear and what we don’t read. And in doing so we seem to be inadvertently dividing our country even further than it already is.

So who needs a 24-hour cable news network when you have the 86,400-second networks of FNN and TNN? The Facebook News Network and the Twitter News Network, that is, the only two networks in the world with an unlimited supply of self-professed experts and influencers, all of whom are ready to talk to their “followers” at a moment’s notice.

In Ted Turner’s introduction of CNN to the world, he said, “We won’t be signing off until the world ends. We’ll be on, we’ll be covering it live, and that will be our last, last event.”

Unless FNN and TNN beat them to it, of course.

Philip Hauserman
Vice president Philip T. Hauserman leads the Atlanta office of The Castle Group, a Boston-based public relations and events management agency with specialty services in communications strategy and crisis management.

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