News Niblets: Social Media’s Best and Worst Quality
Many people love appetizers. They’re usually overpriced, under-portioned, and loaded with calories, but we love them anyway. Why? Because they’re quick, easy, and too the point.
Social media websites like Digg, Reddit, and Propeller offer the same product in the form of headlines. We get to nibble on the news, taking it in bits and pieces, served to us through headlines that are often sensationalized or pointed. While some people take the nibble and move on the main course by reading the full story, a good portion of us live on the appetizers. We read the headlines, possibly read the descriptions, occasionally scan the story (or even just the first few paragraphs), then it’s back to the social media site for the next bite of news via headlines.
Some never make it past the headlines, establishing a reaction or opinion based on the nibblet. This is good. This is also bad.
The advantage is that we get to see what the masses say is good. With traditional media websites, the news is served based upon what a handful of people feel is the news. Social media brings news (and pics, and videos, and…) to the front based upon what hundreds and thousands of people feel is worthy. It is “screened” for us by two things: the social media algorithm and the votes of the users.
Most of the time, this is a huge benefit. We can nibble on photos that make it to the homepage because they are truly good. We get to watch videos that have been pre-screened for us and voted up (hopefully based upon merit) so that, in theory, we only have to spend time on the best of the best.
Then there is news. Most of what makes it to the front page of the major social media websites is there because it passed across the eyes of the masses and was deemed worthy. Some slip through because of the headlines. Others are artificially bumped up through networks. No matter how it gets there, when it does, thousands will see it. For some, their opinions will be changed (or confirmed) based upon the nibble that may or may not be factual.
Which brings us to the bad part. Rather than preach, I’ll let the examples speak for themselves. Two were taken from the headlines currently. One was so overtly bad, I had to digg back a few months to find it.
From Propeller front page, 11-30-07
Does the Pop Princess Have a Plastic Surgery Addiction? (picture of Britney Spears next to it)
If you read the article, there are many references to online sources. One is mentioned b name, though not linked to. The article is 3 short paragraphs with nothing confirmed, including assertions by nameless doctors about rumors. Being a headline on the front page of Propeller, how many people now believe (and are perhaps telling friends) that Britney Spears is addicted to plastic surgery?
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From Reddit front page, 11-30-07
Not only did Rudy Giuliani charge New York City for his affairs in the Hamptons, he charged taxpayers for his failed Senate campaign travel as well! As any New Yorker would say, what a schmuck! (Yes, that’s the headline. Not the description, the headline)
Is it true? The article itself is a somewhat compelling bit of investigative internet reporting. While the slant of the post is clearly anti-Giuliani, the evidence appears to show that the story is possibly true. The niblet, the headline on Reddit itself, gives you everything you need to know, even offering an insight into what New Yorkers think about it all. The problem is that, based upon the story itself, it isn’t as “factual” as the headline would have us believe.
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From Digg front page, 8-11-07
WOW. Obama said that?
Yes he did. The problem is, it was taken out of context, and because we sometimes make judgments based upon our niblets, some may not have read the full quote:
“It’s not my track record. It’s not that I can’t give a pretty good speech; from what I’ve heard I can preach once in a while,” he told the audience. “What it really does lay bare, I think, in part: We’re still locked into the notion that somehow if you appeal to white folks then there must be something wrong.”
Totally misleading headline. Sadly, as something that hit the Digg homepage, thousands of people read the headline and formed their opinion based upon it.
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Social media gives us, the news nibblers, an opportunity to fit tons of media into our busy lives. We can get a laugh with outrageous photos, entertaining videos, and important articles. Because of social media’s nature, thousands of people get to participate with the news. We are a part of it, helping to bring it to light by submitting and voting, as well as helping to remove it from view through sinks, buries, and down-mods.
The participatory nature of social media is its best quality. It’s also its most dangerous drawback. Those who live on the niblets, be wary.
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Read more on this social media blog.