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The Role of Alternative Social Media in the News and Information Environment

Updated: Nov 11

The news and information environment is the context of how people get their news, including their preferences for where to get it and what to believe.



Introduction


The news and information environment is the context of how people get their news, including their preferences for where to get it and what to believe. It can include traditional media outlets such as newspapers and broadcast television, but it also includes alternative social media sites such as Reddit, Twitter, Facebook groups and Instagram pages. This article explores the role that alternative social media plays in our daily lives and whether or not these sites are a reliable source of news from established journalistic sources.


What is alternative social media?


"Alternative social media" are websites, blogs, podcasts and apps that are not controlled by a central company. They can be used for social networking, but they're not the same as Facebook or Twitter—and they're also not the same as blogs or podcasts.

So what exactly is alternative social media? The term encompasses a wide range of platforms. Some of these sites are closely tied to blogging—they're basically blogging platforms with built-in audiences and revenue sources (a la Patreon). Others function more like search engines: users can find information on specific topics by searching keywords or hashtags within the site itself. Some examples include Reddit, which focuses on niche communities; Medium; Pinterest; YouTube; Tumblr; Instagram; Snapchat; Vine: all excellent places where people gather to share their ideas with one another without being censored by corporate interests!


What impact do these sites have on the news and information environment?


It’s helpful to think about alternative social media as a spectrum. On one end, you have the most mainstream sites like Facebook and Twitter, which are well-known and used by most Americans. On the other end of the spectrum, there are niche sites that cater to subcultures like gamers or people who follow certain celebrities or sports teams (e.g., Reddit).


What are some examples of alternative social media?

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Instagram

  • Tumblr

  • Reddit

Mass media professionals and industry observers have been closely monitoring the rise of alternative social media since the 2016 U.S. presidential election.


Mass media professionals and industry observers have been closely monitoring the rise of alternative social media since the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump harnessed Twitter to great effect, amassing millions of followers and using it as a powerful platform for direct communication with his supporters. It also enabled him to bypass traditional mass media outlets that were critical of his candidacy.


By extension, they continue to monitor whether or not this trend is continuing into 2019—and whether or not it will affect their roles within the news and information environment.

As part of this monitoring effort, there has been much discussion about how these platforms are influencing our “media ecology”—the sum total of all sources used by members of society when seeking out information or news content related to current events (Perse & Dunn 2010).


Key takeaways


This research suggests that alternative social media have become a key source of news for many users. It also shows that alternative social media users are more likely to be politically active, which suggests that the popularity of these platforms is due in part to their ability to serve as an outlet for political expression. It appears that the growth in popularity of these sites is contributing to a more diverse and polarized news diet than has previously existed.


While this research provides insights into how people use alternative social media, it remains unclear what effects this particular type of content may have on its audience members. After all, it's one thing for someone with strong political beliefs or an opposing worldview from yours to share their opinion with you; it's quite another if they're sharing objectively false information through your Facebook feed. In order to assess the full impact of these sites on our broader information environment, future work should consider both how often users encounter such content (e.g., via friends' feeds) and whether such encounters take place within broader contexts—for example, when a user clicks on a link shared by someone whom they know only casually versus when they come across an article by chance while browsing through unrelated links posted by strangers online.[1]


Alternative social media are playing an increasingly important role in the news and information environment, especially for those who use social media for news.


Alternative social media are playing an increasingly important role in the news and information environment, especially for those who use social media for news. A significant portion of the U.S. population uses alternative social media sites such as Reddit or 4chan, and among those who get their news from social media, that proportion is even higher.


Conclusion


This research suggests that alternative social media and news sites are becoming a more important part of Americans’ news and information ecosystem. Notably, people who use these sites have less access to traditional sources of information and are less likely to trust them. This may be because they perceive these sites as being more honest than mainstream media outlets, or perhaps they simply feel like they have no other choice but to look elsewhere for their news. Regardless, it’s clear that this trend will continue as long as people continue their migration away from traditional platforms like print newspapers or broadcast television shows toward newer digital platforms such as Facebook or Twitter where messages can spread faster than ever before.

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