Is social media more reliable than traditional news titles?

While traditional media in the region is seen as unreliable and people are getting more of their news from social media, does this mean that Facebook and Twitter are better news sources? Or does it simply mean today’s readers are more savvy and discerning? MEED‘s Austyn Allison offers his thoughts…

Off-line, as well as online, we befriend people with interests similar to our own. We know what axes friends have to grind, and we filter their news, gossip and opinions accordingly

“A recent pan-Arab poll by Northwestern University in Qatar found that less than half of those surveyed (48 per cent) believed that traditional media in their country was trustworthy. This shouldn’t be surprising; traditional media has always come under fire for being untrustworthy, and rightly so. It’s flawed, and no less so in this region. Anywhere in the world, traditional media can be biased, inaccurate, lazily reported, censored or skewed—and people recognise this. Only 41 per cent of the Northwestern survey’s respondents said they thought that regional media could report the news unencumbered.

Even if the heavy hand of censorship isn’t always apparent, it’s often implicit. Regional news sources self-censor for fear of losing their licences or advertising revenue, or do so under sway of personal and political connections.

So if traditional media is biased, why not turn to social media as an alternative? Across the eight countries surveyed, Facebook is the third most popular source of news, just behind Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya television channels. Yet social media has as many flaws as traditional sources, in regards to its accuracy and trustworthiness. The difference between the two media is that Facebook and its ilk also have the benefits of familiarity and relevance.

Off-line, as well as online, we befriend people with interests similar to our own. We may not agree with them, but they have always been sources of news. Each conversation that we have with friends is a news exchange. We also know from experience what axes friends have to grind, and we learn to filter their news, gossip and opinions accordingly. Never do we begrudge them, as we do newspapers and television, if they come at something without showing all sides of the story.

Social media now peddles the same biased or inaccurate information that we used to get at the pub and the water cooler. We all follow or are friends with people who frequently reproduce, reiterate or just share spurious news. The catch is that we are exposed to more and more news from traditional and social sources, so we are better able to gauge what is true and what isn’t.

Overall, this can only be a good thing. It means that consumers of news are becoming better attuned to prejudices in reporting, and have learned to filter them out. Social media is as unreliable as traditional news sources, but it brings us more of what interests us, and brings it to us from different angles. The more sources of information we have, the more ways we have to assess what is accurate. And beyond the facts, we have access to many more opinions and interpretations than ever before. This all means that we can get a much more rounded view of what is going on in the world.

Now that we are able to get so much more news, from so many more sources, it’s what we choose to do with it that counts.”


Austyn Allison is Supplements Editor at MEED, part of Emap Middle East. Follow him on Twitter @maustyn

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