Social media has emerged and become a part of daily life for many individuals. Information on these sites can be sent across the globe in real time, with a virtually unlimited audience. This real-time information exchange has been changing the way people receive their news in recent years. Major news outlets such as CNN, BBC, and ABC are no longer the only way to receive news because of the immediacy social media offers to readers. As social media becomes more prevalent, the news industry is evolving into a information seeking dialogue between citizen and professional journalists.

Raid on Osama Bin Laden  

Amongst the most famous news stories to break on a social media site is the killing of Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. According to an article in the Huffington Post, an IT consultant living in Abbottabad, Pakistan was up late in the evening and tweeted about the unusual helicopter flying near his home and a loud bang that shook his window. On top of that, more than an hour before President Obama’s address to the nation, a man declared that he knew a credible source that told him Osama Bin Laden had in fact been killed. The virility of this information led to many people knowing of the death before any “credible” news source even heard inklings of the information. News outlets were also able to use this information for their own research into the event in order to more accurately describe what had occurred to their audience.

Japan Earthquake

On March 11th, 2011 a very forceful earthquake struck Japan. As soon as the earthquake occurred the phone lines were either disabled or became clogged. According to research done by Joo-Joung Jung “Dependency on mass media increased during or after a disaster. Dependency on mass media also increased in terms of time spent with forms of mass media, the credibility of mass media, and its perceived importance.” (Jung, 2012) The only form of communication available was on social media. It was with their mobile devices and social media sites that information could be spread including whether or not aid was on the way, where certain areas were most devastated, and other pertinent information. Both experts and normal citizens uploaded information about the earthquake on social media platforms. Many local newspapers in earthquake–affected areas set up an account either on commercial social media outlets, such as Twitter, or used local social networking sites to send out information to local residents and newspaper subscribers (Nihon Shinbun Kyokai, 2011).

Without these social media platforms as a means of mass communication many of these devastated individuals would have been completely stripped of communication outside their local environments. It would take much longer for supplies, personnel, and food to be transported to stranded peoples because responders would have to search for people instead of knowing which areas were the most distressed. This would ultimately lead to more fatalities and destruction.

Breaking the News on the Hudson

On January 15th, 2009 US Airways flight 1549 crashed on the Hudson River. Amongst the first responders were ferries that were nearby as it happened. An individual snapped this photo displayed above and put it on Twitter, giving people the information almost instantly. This information spread extremely quickly on this social media site before major news broadcasters ever had a chance to know what was happening. News crews, policemen, and other aid rushed to the scene to help discover what had happened and provide help for the individuals affected.

Boston Marathon Bombing

The most recent major news event directly related with social media occurred on April 15th 2013. News unfolded on the social media site Twitter, where original tweets, images, and even a short video of the blast were posted. Many of the images that had already been spread on Twitter and Facebook were used on major broadcast stations because they offered tragic, gruesome images of the event as it occurred, in order to evoke emotions amongst their viewers.

Days after the event during a manhunt for the suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, social media continued to mold and guide our informational outlets.

The picture shown above displays an actual link that was circulating on Twitter. It resulted in hundreds of thousands of individuals listening to the Boston Police scanners. Information was being revealed instantly as the suspect was being cornered and eventually captured. I myself was watching news unfold on CNN and listening to the police scanner simultaneously. The police scanner revealed information that CNN was not until about twenty to thirty seconds later. It was a thrilling experience gaining this knowledge at the same time or prior to a major news network.

These four events provide strong evidence that social media is impacting the news in a positive manner, by providing first hand accounts of specific events as they unfold in real time.

Effects of Social Media on News

There are negative effects that social media can have on “news.” For example, people can post bogus articles or claims about events that never occurred, and viewers may not check into more “credible” sources such as particular news sites or broadcasts who have verified their sources.

 “The internet is thus both excess (too much information careening with wild  abandon) and lack (of ethics, filters, trustworthiness). Cyberspace is an untamable, irrational world, swirling with disorderly forces and dangerous unlimited possibilities.”  (Bratich, 2004)

Bratich believes the Internet is an open source where any individual can post anything they want, whether it be truthful or not. People have motives that are ill willed and meant to sway the minds of others. Each person’s agenda is different, so it is difficult to know the extent of truth behind a particular article on the Internet.

One may argue that this is becoming increasingly unpopular because of the idea of status seeking. Users generally want to be recognized as upstanding individuals amongst their peers in social media, just as they would want to be considered credible in day-to-day life amongst their friends, family, co-workers, and others they come into contact with regularly. Status seeking describes how sharing news in social media helps one to attain status among peers. Research shows that people share knowledge to acquire peer recognition (Hew and Hara, 2007 and Kaiser and Müller-Seitz, 2008) or to establish status (Mauss, 2002). Status attainment is a strong incentive for participation in an online community (Marlow, 2006). LaRose and Eastin (2004) also found that social status was one of the major motivators driving Internet usage. Park et al. (2009) established that there exists a substantially positive correlation between status seeking and social outcomes amongst social media users. By sharing content and exchanging ideas in online communities, users may develop their reputation among their peers (Rafaeli & Ariel, 2008). This information suggests that status seeking will be positively associated with users’ intention to share news in social media. (Rafaeli and Ariel, 2008) If a user is seen posting news articles of current events, they are seen as intellectuals who can identify important information that affects people directly or indirectly. On a positive note, citizens who upload information, which would not be known by people who not involved, can dispute news sites that may be monitored by governments.

In traditional media, editors who have control of the daily news flow determine information that people are exposed to. Here, people passively receive news content broadcast through media channels. In spite of being separated by physical distance, social media users are connected with each other through similar interests and news stories can be spread across such online communities and discussed by people around the world within minutes. In traditional media, sharing news is limited due to the absence of effective circulation channels. Social media differs from traditional media in that audiences can customize news choices and interact with others (Chung, 2008). In sum, social media empower individuals to create, share and seek content, as well as to communicate and collaborate with each other. These features afforded by social media have the potential to change the nature of news sharing. (Rafaeli and Ariel, 2008) Users will no longer be fed information available only from select broadcasters. They may select an from an abundance of informational channels and have the ability to question, discuss, and critique the information on social media venues.

According to research by Messing and Westwood, social media should be expected to increase users’ exposure to a variety of news and politically diverse information given the diversity of social network contacts within the context of social media websites. Success that the online news media have experienced by partnering with social media companies in order to drive traffic to their websites also suggests that social media may constitute a force that drives citizens to read news, or at least headlines and abstracts. They continue to suggest that selective exposure and partisan polarization will continue to occur offline in the broadcast news and online when individuals limit their news consumption to partisan news websites and maintains a politically homogeneous network of online contacts. In the context of the diverse social, work, school, and intergenerational familial ties maintained via online networking websites, the odds of exposure to multiple perspectives among partisans and political news among the disaffected strike us as substantially higher than discussion or traditional media venues. (Messing and Westwood, 2012)

According to an article by Rich Brooks journalists are using social media to aid in their own research. They use contacts and leads on social media sites in order to be the first professional on a scene to report through broadcast stations. Many news sites now have their own Twitter accounts in which they tweet about breaking news. A local Buffalo News Station, WIVB even posts pictures of breaking news that can be tweeted from normal people in the area of a developing story, offering the public news that would otherwise not be known until later. News crews can utilize this information and rush to  a news scene they did not have prior knowledge of.As citizen journalists engage in journalistic practices, ordinary citizens may encounter professional and citizen journalists while obtaining information from social media, linked to online news sites. Individuals openly communicate and interact with professional and citizen journalists through blogs, forums and chat features . This allows ordinary citizens the opportunity to build relationships with and attitudes toward professional and citizen journalists through online community news sites, which function as important news and information sources to community members. (Chung and Nah, 2012)

As social media continues to influence the news and vice versa, more credible information will be available to users. The combination of user generated, status seeking content, journalistic research, and the ability to comment on others’ work,  creates a dialogue between these two parties to ultimately guide each towards accurate and truthful news information available to the masses.


A.M. Kaplan and M. Haenlein, 2010. “Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media,” Business Horizons, volume 53, number 1, pp. 59–68.

Jung, Joo-Yung. “Social Media Use and Goals after the Great East Japan Earthquake.”First Monday 17.8 (2012): n. pag. Web. <http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/viewArticle/4071&gt;.

Nihon Shinbun Kyokai, 2011. “Quake–area newspapers found Twitter solutions to get the news out,” NSK News Bulletin Online, at http://www.pressnet.or.jp/newsb/1104b.html, accessed 2 November 2011.

D. Chung “Interactive features of online newspapers: Identifying patterns and predicting use of engaged readers” Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 13 (3) (2008), pp. 658–679

Leetaru, Kalec H. “Culturomics 2.0: Forecasting large–scale human behavior using global news media tone in time and space,”
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 9 – 5 September 2011

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S. Kaiser, G. Müller-Seitz Leveraging lead user knowledge in software development—The case of weblog technology Industry & Innovation, 15 (2) (2008), pp. 199–221

M. Mauss The gift: The form and reason for exchange in archaic societies Routledge, Abingdon, Oxon (2002)

Marlow, C. (2006). Linking without thinking: Weblogs, readership, and online social capital formation. In the 56th annual conference of the international communication association. Dresden, Germany.

R. LaRose, M.S. Eastin A social cognitive theory of Internet uses and gratifications: Toward a new model of media attendance Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48 (3) (2004), pp. 358–377

N. Park, K.F. Kee, S. Valenzuela Being immersed in social networking environment: Facebook groups, uses and gratifications, and social outcomes CyberPsychology & Behavior, 12 (6) (2009), pp. 729–733

S. Rafaeli, Y. Ariel Online motivational factors: Incentives for participation and contribution in Wikipedia A. Barak (Ed.), Psychological aspects of cyberspace: Theory, research, applications, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK (2008), pp. 243–267

Chei Sian Lee, Long Ma News sharing in social media: The effect of gratifications and prior experience Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 28, Issue 2, March 2012, Pages 331–339

Messing, Solomon and Westwood, Sean J. Selective Exposure in the Age of Social Media: Endorsements Trump Partisan Source Affiliation When Selecting News Online  31 December 2012

Bratich, Jack Z. “Trust No One (On the Internet): The CIA-Crack-Contra Conspiracy Theory and Professional Journalism.” Television & New Media 5.2 (2004): 109-39. Print.

Chung, Deborah S., and Seungahn Nah. “When Citizens Meet Both Professional and Citizen Journalists: Social Trust, Media Credibility, and Perceived Journalistic Roles among Online Community News Readers.” Journalism 13.6 (2012): 714-30. Web.

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