Cast your mind back to the summer of 2007, when the iPhone had just been released, the recession had not happened yet and the idea of getting news from something like an app on your phone was nowhere to be found. That was fourteen years ago. Things change and the way we choose to find information about the world and current affairs is constantly changing too. Facebook and Twitter offer information in short snippets, major newspapers have their own apps, YouTube allows somebody to watch ‘news’ when it pleases them. We no longer need to wait around until the ten o’clock news comes on. So, what are we using, and are they any good?

YouTube has become a platform for both reporters of and commentators on news and politics. I am personally a big fan of TLDR news, in all honesty going to them far more than I do actual old school media outlets, such as the ten o’clock news or the papers. They allow me to pick and choose the topics I want to hear about and view things when I want, unlike TV news which has specified times. This opportunity for choice is an option our grandparents were not given. Mostly though I just like the way they present, addressing the issues individually and as a topic rather than just a headline. This, in my eyes, is the positive side of YouTube news; these are the people successfully attempting to keep up with expected standards of neutrality.

There is a dangerous side to YouTube news as well. On the 15th of March 2019, fifty-one people were killed at a shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, along with another forty injured. According to a report by The Royal Commission of Inquiry, the shooter often accessed extremist material on Youtube. The danger with sites like these, such as YouTube is that the content creators are largely unaccountable, unlike those in the traditional media who are held to higher levels of scrutiny by the courts and legal systems. TLDR are in the minority maintaining the same standards as traditional media. See the likes of Ben Shapiro and Stephen Crowder and their videos. The problem with such sites is that they can allow people to outlet views that are not supported with any real or reliable data.

Twitter is another major source of many people’s information that has arisen during the past two decades.It is a source of both news and personal stories. Many of us use it to see what is going on and to see what the opinions of people are. Yet Twitter is an echo chamber that does not represent the population at large.Twitter’s users are younger which means the political views of the younger demographic are being platformed the most. In the UK over 50% of the nation voted to leave the EU, but if your only news source was Twitter this would likely seem entirely impossible. Though there are micro echo chambers within Twitter which do not follow the standard views for users, these are only small groups. In my questioning of a few people, some said they used Twitter to hear about news stories, and then went on to read about them further elsewhere. This is fine, this is safe. But to use Twitter as a primary source for information and news is dangerous. Twitter’s nature as an echo-chamber can lead to certain opinions appearing more widely supported than they are.

Many people, myself included, use Facebook as a source for news. Lots follow the pages of more traditional media outlets such as The Guardian or Financial Times on Facebook, or even Cherwell. Likewise, this is a legitimate use of social media; Facebook alerts us of the stories, and then we go off and read the articles from the Facebook pages which we would otherwise find on apps or the websites of the media outlets. This is similar to how many of the people use Instagram: they would find stories on the platform the same as people do on Facebook and the stories which interested them they read up on further. However, the 2020 election shows that Facebook most certainly does not avoid the issues that both Twitter and YouTube have. The unfounded QAnon conspiracy theory, that Donald Trump was secretly fighting a ring of paedophiles in the highest ranks of the United States, was largely to be found on Facebook, and other such far-right ideologies use the platform as their hub. In January, Mark Zuckerberg announced that  Facebook is stopping recommending both civic and political groups. He stated that Facebook wished “to make sure the communities people connect with are healthy and positive.” The fact is that on Facebook these communities are often not healthy and are often misleading. 

It is quite surprising that memes have become a form of political exchange and currency. We have all seen memes about Boris, and about both the 2016 and 2020 American elections. These are less a source of political information but, rather, a source of influence. Memes have become like the modern poster; they are not a form of information presentation but are rather a way in which viewpoints can be presented to seem commonplace, grab viewer’s attention and spread, and thus one person can create a meme that appears to be supported by thousands. Furthermore, WhatsApp has accentuated the spread, particularly amongst the older generation. 

On the 20th of October 2020, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez live-streamed Among Us on Twitch (an online streaming site)  which received 400,000 views. Recently, Twitch has seen a shift in its most popular videos, with the chat section overtaking the gaming section as the largest. Twitch has seen the rise of figures such as the political commentator Hasan Piker, who gave a constant stream on twitch over the election period, which at its height had 225,000 viewers. Of course, those watching such streams tend to be younger, with the average age of a Twitch user being in their late teens and early twenties. Research by Cambridge University has suggested that getting younger voters engaged in politics can lead to a lasting impact on later elections as the voters are caught younger. The Obama election caught onto this, placing ads in games on Xbox live in both 2008 and 2012. Hasan Piker believes he is popular because he is more relatable and down-to-earth than the standard news anchor. Unlike the mainstream press, those on Twitch are free to show their biases, and thus where they lie on the political spectrum is clear to see and that allows a viewer to react to the information appropriately. Twitch has yet to see the dangers concerning political information that Facebook and Twitter have concerning radicalisation and misinformation, but it will come as the audience for political information on the streaming service grows.

Are these sources of information good ones? As aforementioned, it is not surprising that people are turning to these new forms of information gathering. They are suited to and adapted for the viewer. Twitch really demonstrates why these sources of news and information are becoming more popular. Because people are social media anyway, YouTube and Twitch are the standards of our generation much like TV was to the generation before. As we spend hours each day on these sites, it makes sense that we turn to them for information, as we are there anyway. We have access to all the information we could ever want on our phones, so these new forms of media and information are not only new but are the new normal. However, until they are regulated more carefully the dangers associated with using them will persist, so use them, but be careful in their use. Facebook, Twitter, Twitch and YouTube are great sources of information and will become the main ones for many of us. This in itself is not a negative; technology adapts, and the way people live their lives adapts with technology – but so must regulations and laws. If these are to be sources of our news and information, then they must be held to the same standards as traditional sources of news such as newspapers and TV news.

Image Credit: CartridgeSave via Flickr & Creative Commons.

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