When social media is The News

28 Dec

Caroline James @CarolineJames1

What happens if social media isn’t used to tell a story, but is the story itself?

I’ve just used Google News to search for “Facebook”.  In the past day, there have been over 72,oo0 uses of the word Facebook across the 4,500 “English-language news sources” collated by Google News.

Some of these are instances of the role social media plays in contemporary journalism: The Guardian tells us how the social networking site was used to help police hunt for clues after Joanna Yeates disappeared.  There are also reports from Matt Tran at Online Social Media of the numerous Facebook pages which have sprung up in tribute to her death.  Here we have a clear example of how social media has become an intrinsic part of journalistic news gathering, as well as in reporting the news.

There are, however, more navel-gazing aspects of Facebook for the journalist.  We have hits under the search “Facebook” returned in the following areas:

Business – Google News tells me there’s 52 related stories, The New York Times among them, about the trade in Facebook shares, in spite of the fact that the company is privately held.

Technology – Where I’d expect a Facebook story to crop up, in a subsection called Techland, part of Time’s online offering.  And according to the experts there, the more friends we have on Facebook, the bigger our “amygdala”.  Check out the article if you want to know if that’s a good thing or not.

Legal – I discovered a pupil in Florida has pursued successful legal action after being suspended after making comments about a teacher on Facebook.  32 articles on the subject will surely provide some comfort to all those students out there who worry about the damage a drunken Facebook photo might have done to their job prospects.

So, Facebook news stories aren’t just to be pigeonholed as technology based.

Social media isn’t a niche that can be categorised per se, but its functions overlap many aspects of journalism.  If I was writing in October 2010, I’d be able to count in my Google News search the articles about the film The Social Network following Mark Zuckerberg’s roller-coaster ride revolutionising modern communication with Facebook.  It’s not just the news taking its cue from social media, now Hollywood’s at it, too!

Is it only a matter of time before Facebook adds its own news function?

It could take the form of listing the most popular news stories, like the BBC.  Or, perhaps the most popular links flying around Facebook would give it its own “Most shared on Facebook” hierarchy of news.

We know that the YouTube Gap Yah video which went viral –  incidentally, it has over 3,000,000 views to date – benefited from Facebook friends sharing the link with each other.  Just think how much faster it would’ve spread if the first thing you were directed to when you logged on to Facebook  was a table showing you that 75% of all your Facebook friends had clicked on that link…

Facebook wouldn’t be the first social media site to collate popular topics.  Twitter has its “trending” which must be one of the most up-to-date and immediate ways of tracking the most discussed news of the day:

So, Mark Zuckerberg, if you’re reading this: we’re ready for Facebook to give something back to the news it’s so often responsible for generating.

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