Jacob L. Nelson
“The downside: Without news brands investing the time and effort to add their content to social media platforms, these platforms — already flooded with misinformation — will become even less hospitable venues for the millions of people who spend hours on them daily.”
In 2009, I logged onto Twitter for the first time. My journalism professor required students to join the platform, which he described as a necessary tool for breaking, reporting, and distributing news.
Ten years later, I began teaching my own journalism courses, and similarly pushed students to join Twitter so that they could engage with news audiences and potential colleagues while cultivating a professional identity that would help them secure job opportunities in an increasingly precarious field.
Lately, my classroom discussions surrounding the relationship between journalists and Twitter (now X) — and social media more broadly — have become much more ambivalent. To be sure, my students, like half of U.S. adults, get most of their news from social media (primarily Instagram). And, consistent with the most recent Digital News Report, they’re much more likely to access news via these platforms than they are to directly access a news organization’s website or app.
But for the first time as either a journalism student or teacher, I have found my classroom discussions about social media to be much more pessimistic than idealistic. The more people turn to these platforms for news, the more they find themselves navigating misinformation and vitriol to come across reliable information (or what people think is reliable information). As the disadvantages of these platforms become more obvious, they have begun to feel less like opportunities for journalists and news audiences and more like an enduring bad habit.
In 2024, I believe that will begin to change. My prediction: As social media’s risks and challenges intensify (e.g., the abuse, harassment, trolling, and bad faith attacks), while the benefits diminish (X doesn’t send big audiences to news and TikTok is a “news wasteland”), journalists will stop begrudgingly depending on these platforms and start trying to circumvent them. We’re already seeing small signs of this transition, as more news organizations invest in newsletters and other efforts to cultivate more direct connections with potential audiences.
The upside of this transition: At a moment when trust in news media is remarkably low and misinformation is remarkably high, journalists attempting to establish direct relationships with audiences might mean improving people’s understanding of what’s going on in the world while simultaneously improving their relationships with reputable news brands. The downside: Without news brands investing the time and effort to add their content to social media platforms, these platforms — already flooded with misinformation — will become even less hospitable venues for the millions of people who spend hours on them daily. This means it will be important not only for journalists to build avenues to readers independent of social media platforms, but to change public perceptions of social media platforms so that news audiences no longer see platforms as reliable sources of information about the world.
That’s a tall order, especially as these platforms continue to dominate people’s attention; however, my prediction is that it will continue to grow clearer that separating news — and news consumption — from social media is the best step forward not just for journalists, but the public as well.
Jacob L. Nelson is an assistant professor at the University of Utah.