A staggering 81% of 18-29-year-old readers prefer to get their #News online, according to a recent Pew Research Centre study.
As the internet's influence over news and media has proliferated over the past decade, young people have increasingly sought to locate news online. A mere 10% of those surveyed answered that their primary source of news comes from traditional outlets such as newspapers.
Among 30-49-year-old readers, the breakdown is remarkably similar: In total, 72% of the 30-49 demographic have migrated to reading news online as opposed to the 13% that source news from newspapers.
This paradigmatic shift in consumption of news is fraught with peril
Infinitely more so than traditional media outlets, news sourced directly from the internet is open to manipulation. Recently, traditional media outlets lamented the demise of the fact, suggesting we are currently in the midst of a "post-truth era" in which political discourse appeals directly to emotion rather than containing any semblance of truth. In turn, this leads to "fake news" stories".
Andrew Smith of The Guardian opined that "the pedlars of fake news are corroding democracy", arguing that if fake news is filtered through social media then social media must be held responsible for the dissemination of misinformation. In a stark warning, Smith claimed that we must choose between "social networks' bottom line and democracy".
An earlier PEW Research study found that over half of Americans--a whopping 63%-- source their news directly from #Facebook and #Twitter. Although initially dismissed by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a "crazy idea", social media is an integral part of this shifting media landscape.
Facebook and Twitter's algorithms order user's newsfeeds on the basis of what they deem user's are most likely to interact with, regardless of whether they are factually correct. Consequently, salacious stories bereft of fact found their way to the top of users' newsfeeds.
During the Presidential Election, millions of people shared a fake news story on Facebook that unflinchingly stated The Pope endorsed Donald Trump to become President. Moreover, millions of people viewed and shared articles suggesting that Democrats had paid anti-Trump protesters and that Hillary Clinton was being investigated by the police for a sexual assault on a minor.
The consequences of the Hillary Clinton fake news story came to fruition yesterday in Washington, when a gunman was motivated by a story that stated Clinton was operating a child abuse ring at a pizza diner.
A man just walked into the Comet restaurant in DC with a rifle. No shots heard. I'm ok, hiding in the red fox coffeeshop next door.— Kent Hoshiko (@Kenttouch_this) 4 December 2016
While it is historically true that an individual's choice of news outlet has reflected their political opinions back to them the propagation of false news poses a tangible threat to the notion of a "reality" governed by a set of irrefutable facts. Accordingly, every piece of news digested is simultaneously true and false given the nature of the internet as a platform of ostensibly democratic expression.
As shifting demographics normalise the consumption of news online, it is incumbent on young people who rely on the internet as the source of news to demand more from internet algorithms that control the reality around them.