Social Media and its role in the Media: Helpful or Hazardous?


Upon reading Irish Independent columnist, Colette Browne‘s insightful article about Twitter Trolls, it got me thinking about the pros and cons of social media, the roll it plays in shaping our media content in general and its use as a tool for sourcing news and correct information. There’s no doubt about it, social media is a huge part of our lives, and if you work in the media (or wherever) as I do, you’ll probably sit on the following sides of the fence: it’s either helpful to us in that it’s fun, engaging and gives us news and information as it happens, hazardous in the way of illegitimate sources and vicious trolls or, a bit of both.

In her article, Colette pointed out that Twitter, for example, “recently marked 200 million active users who send a staggering 400 million tweets a day.” Holy christ, that’s some amount of tweeting! When you think about the media outlets around the country (and the globe), that rely on social networking accounts to deliver information to the public on a daily basis (RTE, TV3 etc), you’re talking about masses of information being available at 130 characters or less (more if you favour Facebook of course). As a journalist, I’m hugely divided in my opinion when it comes to using Twitter (or social media in general) as a means to gather information.

Don’t get me wrong, on a personal level, I’m a big social media user as it stands; I’m active daily on Twitter and Facebook and see them as brilliant means to get the website to a bigger audience, make some friends  and engage with interesting people from all around the world. But on a professional level, and as a tool for gathering information, I’m weary of using it. You have issues with the legitimacy of your sources – even if they come from a verified account, hacking can still occur – and the masses of public opinion that is voiced can be a concern, never mind the darker side of social media that trolls relish in, so that they can hurl abuse and torment their victims (campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez being a case in point here).  So, there’s obviously pros and cons when it comes to using it as a fully reliable source for news or media content.

What we used to use in place of Social Media?

*What we used to use in place of Social Media?

The Positives

On the plus side, social media a fun, quick way to access masses of information on virtually every topic of your choosing at any given time. It’s also great for following a breaking news story as it happens, and getting quick, available updates promptly. If you so want this, it’s also great for getting some form of public opinion on a topic. It’s fantastic for accessing a huge variation of different communities (and making some good friends along the way too). The word also gets out at lightening speed, which is helpful, particularly from a news point of view.

The Negatives 

The downside is of course to do with checking the validity  of your sources; you have to be certain they are correct, this could be difficult if hundreds are telling you different things about the same story, so research and fact checking as much as possible, are key here. It’s also usually tough to get in-depth analysis on a topic; in my experience, you’ll scarcely find this on Twitter or Facebook. These are some of the reasons, that rather than use a social media stream to collect fact, I’ll try to speak to a person directly, use official news sources on the radio, TV, or an official website as opposed to social networking.

And what of dealing with trolls? As Colette pointed out, it’s often best “not to indulge them,” but this can be easier said then done, especially if it gets out of control. If it does, and turns to threats of a criminal nature as opposed to a personal one, she rightfully points out that this “is a matter for the gardai, with social media companies assisting them,” which I fully agree with. I had a particularly bad experience in which I was being harassed via Twitter and the subject of many lewd, personal comments, which distressed me a great deal; I didn’t report the account (in hindsight, I should have), and had  a good mind to get rid of my own, but decided in the end not to give in, ignore it, and focus on the fact that their were so many on Twitter that made it a great place to be.

It’s How You Use It

“It’s how you use social media that will make all the difference to how valuable it’s going to be to you as a journalist and writer.”

So, to conclude, some of the pros and cons have obviously been listed here, and in terms of social media and its role in shaping our news content, I really think it can be both a help and a hazard at times, and I think it should be used as an aid alongside other official news sources for gathering facts, rather than a standalone source. It’s how you use it that will make all the difference to how valuable it’s going to be to you as a journalist and writer. While doing some research on this topic, I came across a very informative article which provided some more food for thought and also said that it’s important to “stay focused on your role as a journalist,” and to “maintain fundamental journalism principles” among others when using social media as a resource, all of which I think are really important points to note as well.

I also came across this interesting article in which a team of French journalists who decided to experiment and see if Twitter really good be relied upon as a news source, and they came up with some interesting results, so I definitely recommend checking it out.

To all the journalists, writers and everyone else out there: what’s your opinion on this, and how do you use social media? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

*Cartoon by John Atkinson at Wrong Hands


  1. I like social media up to a point, but I only use it for the blog, I don’t even have a personal facebook page and neither does my fiance! Have to say though, any breaking news story I’ve heard of recently was through Twitter before any other forum, so you get the news faster, although I then always check Sky News or a reliable source to get the fully story!

  2. Jennifer says:

    There’s no doubt that you can get news faster on social media outlets, it’s one of the great things about it, but I’ve had an experience or two when trying to source information via some networks that put me off ever doing so again! So, I’ll always go to an official source (I reckon that’s how most would use it). The topic of how social media is used is a really debatable one, so I’m always curious to see how others use it.