Where do young people get news in the midst of social media chatter?

  • Sabikunnahar Lipi and Rasel Sarker, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2021-05-17 10:03:12 BdST

Whenever he gets the chance, Shafiq Mitul, a diploma student at the Asian College of Journalism, checks his Facebook newsfeed.

He spends a lot of time on social media, but when he needs accurate information or the important news he turns to more mainstream sources.

In most cases, he gets the news on Facebook or YouTube first as links are shared on people’s timelines. But he still checks mainstream news websites to clear any doubt.

“News usually breaks on social media first, but you still need to wait until the traditional media confirms it.”

Many young people flock to popular social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to stay up-to-date on the latest news.

People of all ages also spend a significant amount of free time on these websites for personal communication and to share their favourite moments with their friends, or to take part in ‘trends’.

In addition to keeping in touch with national and global events, people can also stay abreast of goings-on in their own community.

“You can just get news on Facebook,” says Dhaka University student Arthi Nobonita. “When news links crop up on my feed, I skim the headlines. If I think it’s important enough, I’ll click the link and read the main story on the site, but I rarely read the whole story.”

Social media is a more exciting platform for discussing issues than mainstream media because of the wide range of responses that one can see, says Ariful Haque Abir, a student at Sheikh Hasina Medical College in Tangail.

“When someone goes on Facebook Live it’s streamed to everyone instantaneously. The audience can also interact.”

Jahangirnagar University student Mohiuddin Mahir believes that the mainstream media, like the youth, has become reliant on social media and it is changing the way news is reported.

“If you don’t share it on social media, the news will not get a significant audience. People don’t watch the news on television because there are too many ads. So, if you don’t share it on YouTube or Facebook, it doesn’t reach too many people.”

Imran Hossein, who works in public relations at the Institution of Engineers, Bangladesh, says he is more interested in social media because it makes it easy to find all sorts of information.

But he adds that companies also allow misinformation, fake news and rumours to fester on social media that can stir panic. “In those cases, I usually get my information from mainstream media.”

Maria Jahan Moushumi, a student of political science at the Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, does not trust social network because of how easily it can spread misinformation.

“Traditional media gives accurate information, so I’m more interested in that. You often get fake news on social media.”

People have instant access to news on smartphones and can get a lot of information just by checking Facebook, says North South University student Ashiqur Rahman.

Asked whether that news is reliable, he said: “You can’t actually rely on the news sites in our country to tell you what happened. If you really want to learn about a topic deeply, you have to search it on Google and then get the truth by scrutinising all those results.”

Young people, who spend a lot of time on Facebook or YouTube, believe that mainstream outlets are falling behind in terms of the speed with which they can deliver news. Some also believe that important news stories are also suppressed due to different types of pressure groups or the outlet’s self-interest.

Despite this, many are sceptical of social media because of its tendency to spread rumours and confusion. This is why some return to mainstream traditional media outlets.

Young people are attracted to social media because mainstream outlets refuse to carry certain news items due to pressure from various quarters, says Rezaul Karim, a student of Titumir College.

“The media has not gained the trust of the people. In many cases, they are unable to report the news because they have to follow the rules of the ruling and owner class. That is why people turn to social media to get unfiltered information.”

“At one time the media could determine how much people would be told and how they could respond,” says Dhaka University Mass Media and Journalism student Tuhin Imran.

“Now people get information from various sources. People are turning away from mainstream media and relying more on social media. The reason for this is that social media has no filter.”

Tejgaon College undergraduate student Koushikur Rahman Robin says he trusts mainstream media more because it is liable for what it writes.

“Most of the information on social media is fake,” he said. “That’s why you can’t trust it. People just write their own fictions. The things printed in the paper are true and were written after information was scrutinised.”

Social media is often a ‘rumour mill’ because it is impossible to ‘cross check’ a lot of the information found on it, says Dhaka University Mass Media and Communications student Siddiq Farooq.

But mainstream media does not feature the voices of regular people in an age of increased interactivity, he added.

“Regular people always question the authenticity of mainstream media. Mainstream media also has bias, clickbait, embedded journalism and is filled with unskilled reporters, so they are equally responsible for this.”

Experts say that both social media and mainstream media will face challenges in the future and their audience will benefit if they are overcome.

Former Dhaka University Vice-Chancellor AAMS Arefin Siddique believes social media and mainstream media have different goals and motivations.

“Mainstream media follows editorial policies in reporting information, but that is not the case for social media.”

“On social media, anyone can spread information. And they often spread information in their own interest, which may not always be accurate. On social media, people write what they feel. Sometimes that is acceptable, sometimes it isn’t.”

But information travels on social media quickly, he said.

“For this reason, many news stories are taken from social media. And then people use traditional media stories to communicate on social media.”

The professor of journalism says that both media formats can create misinformation or rumours.

“You can spread rumours at will on social media. In fact, the goal of some users is to create disorder.”

“But I see rumours on traditional media as well. When they can’t find accurate information, they try and compile it from different sources and sometimes the result isn’t the truth. But it is, comparatively, less frequent.”

He urged people to disarm rumours by spreading accurate information.

“If we try to suppress it, it only leads to more problems.”

In Prof Siddique’s opinion, some restrictions are required on social media to stop the spread of lies, rumours, hate speech and religious provocations.

“Alongside freedom comes the question of responsibility. There is nothing called absolute freedom. Freedom has its rules too.”

When traditional media faces barriers to reporting the news, it should express it openly, he said.

“If they state it outright, people will be able to understand why they were unable to report it. Traditional media can operate freely if the editors, publishers and reporters have integrity. If they do, no barrier will be able to stop them.”

“Sometimes they face pressure from various quarters. They can overcome it collectively if they remain objective. But, if they compromise their objectivity, they will face difficulties.”

“It cannot be denied that there I pressure from certain groups. But I believe traditional media has the courage and capacity to overcome that problem.”