As Emily Bell has written: “Social media hasn’t just swallowed journalism, it has swallowed everything. It has swallowed political campaigns, banking systems, personal histories, the leisure industry, retail, even government and security.”
Bell, the director of the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University – and a board member of the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian – has outlined the seismic impact of social media for journalism. “Our news ecosystem has changed more dramatically in the past five years,” she wrote in March, “than perhaps at any time in the past 500.” The future of publishing is being put into the “hands of the few, who now control the destiny of the many”. News publishers have lost control over the distribution of their journalism, which for many readers is now “filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable”. This means that social media companies have become overwhelmingly powerful in determining what we read – and enormously profitable from the monetisation of other people’s work. As Bell notes: “There is a far greater concentration of power in this respect than there has ever been in the past.”
The increasing prevalence of this approach suggests that we are in the midst of a fundamental change in the values of journalism – a consumerist shift. Instead of strengthening social bonds, or creating an informed public, or the idea of news as a civic good, a democratic necessity, it creates gangs, which spread instant falsehoods that fit their views, reinforcing each other’s beliefs, driving each other deeper into shared opinions, rather than established facts.
From Katharine Viner’s article “How Technology Disrupted the Truth” in The Guardian. Probably one of the most important things I’ve read in a long time.