I moved to Melbourne from New York in November and, 8 months later, I find myself more up-to-date with US news than ever before. The reason is simple: I pay much more attention to my social news feeds.
Moving so far away from where I grew up is a huge factor in this. I miss my family and friends. A fourteen-hour time difference (sixteen depending on the time of year) makes scheduling calls difficult. I have friends who, in 2013, don’t know how to Skype. For these reasons and many more, I can’t always connect with those whose lives I’m interested in. Consequently, I monitor their Facebook pages.
A Quick Note
I originally wrote the previous sentence as “And so I stalk their Facebook accounts.” This phrase has become so commonplace that I used an online thesaurus to find something less cliché. Typing ‘stalk’ into the thesaurus presented me with synonyms such as haunt, hunt and pursue, but because I’m neither a ghost, predator, nor Bourne Identity character, I continued my search. I found that “creep up on” was close to what I was going for and so I decided to enter ‘creep’ into the thesaurus. I can tell you that I was not slithering, squirming, worming or wriggling on anyone’s Facebook accounts. Press back button, scroll down, down…down…and monitor it is! But monitoring accounts makes me sound like the NSA, so a quick replacement of accounts with pages and here we are.
Back on Track
In the process of monitoring Facebook pages, I’m presented daily with THE NEWS FEED. I am on Facebook a lot, but keep in mind that I work in an agency where there is no amount of time deemed excessive on social media. Seeing my news feed so many times in a day has lead me to realise that I get most of my news from Facebook and a bit from Twitter. Not all of this news would be considered serious. For example, a recent status stating “Hey John, guess you’re not going out this weekend” links to the following article. On the other hand, I first heard of Senator Wendy Davis and her 11-hour filibuster while going through my Facebook News Feed.
The Role of Hashtags
Mainly used on Twitter and recently released on Facebook, hashtags can actually be used to look into topics other than first world problems and epic fails. In fact, after first reading about Wendy Davis on Facebook, I went to Twitter and searched the senator’s name. In the resulting tweets, I found certain hashtags repeated such as #StandWithWendy, #SitDownWendy, and #SB5. After clicking through these I was able to read more about the topic and additionally learn the differing angles (hence, #StandWithWendy versus #SitDownWendy). Similarly, when Kevin Rudd ousted Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the hashtags #laborfail, #KRudd, #spill, #auspol, #qt, and #caucus all served as ways to read up on what was developing in Labor leadership. User handles can be used in the same manner: many tweets mentioned @KRuddMP and @JuliaGillard.
There is a caveat to finding news through social media that shouldn’t be overlooked: your network. Many of us befriend (in life and on Facebook) people who have similar views to our own. Consequently, your news feed may predominantly be from a particular angle or may only focus on certain topics. I have one friend whose most recent activity includes the following:
- Status Update: U.S. launches anti-poaching initiative in Africa
- Status Update: Tell the White House You Oppose Horse Slaughter
- Shared Article: Saying ‘No’ to Ivory: Philippines Destroys Over 5 Tons of Elephant Tusks
- Page Like: Save the Rhino International
He’s really into stray dogs and rhinos.
The positive aspect of this is that your news is tailored to a certain extent. If you find that you want more tailoring, you can always choose to exclude certain people from your newsfeed. And if you really need tailored news, you can always use a program such as Digg, Feedly, Curata or Google Reader, all of which were created for the exact purpose of delivering tailored news.
The Beauty of It All
Using social media as a news source illustrates the internet’s capacity for creative and new ways to share information. Information has become our most valuable resource, more valuable than its predecessors, capital and land. Accordingly, any resource that shares this information is a valuable tool–it’s no wonder Zuckerberg keeps updating and tinkering with our news feeds.