19 March 2019 / uSync Telling Stories on Social Media You’ve probably encountered this statistic already. A recent study by Pew Research Center found that “a majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media.” This statistic has echoed throughout the internet, as news organizations grapple with what The Denver Post calls “a tectonic shift in news consumption habits.” According to Forbes, “Social media has become the main source of news online, with more than 2.4 billion internet users, nearly 64.5 percent receive breaking news from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram instead of traditional media.” Whether you feel this is for the better or the worse (and an argument could be made for either side) this shift has a major significance on all of us. It puts the responsibility into our hands as news consumers. Information spreads quickly on social media. The crazier the story, the faster it goes viral. There is no longer a designated fact-checker diligently protecting us from false information. It is up to us to protect ourselves. We need to train our brains to be able to see the full context of the news we consume. This means not taking things at face value, and investigating a news source before assuming that it’s trustworthy. Of course, it seems a little scary to think that anybody anywhere could post whatever they want online and pass it off as reality. But finding news sources that aren’t politically biased has always been tricky—and giving deeper thought to the way information is being presented to you has always been a crucial part of navigating the mass amounts of media we all consume. Although social media can perpetuate false information quicker than ever before—it also allows for more honest dialogue, and information that comes directly from the source. It’s a double-edged sword that we, as social media users, must learn to use responsibly and intelligently. This responsibility sometimes feels a little overwhelming. If you’re not a writer, the idea of being a news source might feel intimidating. And if you are a writer, you might be thinking, “yeah, but I’m not a journalist.” Journalists have a specific education and spend years developing the skills required to report factual, meaningful information to us as quickly as they possibly can. But it’s time to learn how to think like a journalist. The current political climate—combined with the “tectonic shift” in news consumption—means that being a good citizen means thinking like a journalist. The simplest way to do this is to be smart about how you consume news via social media. Read the news with a discerning eye. Look for all sides of the story. And be cognizant of the source. Double-check that information is coming from a reliable writer or organization before assuming it’s true. As a social media user, you are a one-person newspaper. What you repost matters. You are curating a news-reading experience for other people in your network. Just as it’s important to think analytically about the information you’re consuming, it’s crucial to be aware of what you’re reposting. Is it accurate? Does it have value? Will spreading this information have a positive effect on your online community? The need for well-constructed social media content is greater now than ever before. As a content creator, you have an opportunity to contribute your knowledge, voice, and ideas and have them actually be heard by the world. Investigating an issue or event in your community and constructing a narrative to share with the rest of the world is a powerful way to create a dialogue on important topics that have an impact on the life of those around you. Telling a story on social doesn’t have to be journalistic. Stories can be personal, like a memoir or travelogue, or fictional, like short stories or poems. Even branding—when done thoughtfully—can add value to your readers’ lives.Social media literacy needs to change, beginning in schools. One thing that social needs today is deeper thought about writing. Education needs to focus on this as early as high school, and universities need to recognize the medium as a true communication outlet just as they did when they created journalism departments. Writing for social media involves skill, judgement, willingness to listen and a creative spirit. Many professional writers begin publishing solely on social as bloggers, or even by just keeping an up-to-date Twitter that other people can use as a resource on current events. The best way to begin is to consider your own voice. Who you are, where you’re from, what you believe in. What unique knowledge do you have about the world? It’s okay to start small. A few sentences or thoughts constructed around a topic can go a long way. You can put those ideas into the world, and even use surveys to get feedback from your network. From there, continue to build on your ideas. Explore, ask questions, interview acquaintances you’ve always wanted to talk to. Include media like pictures, videos, and music. Give readers an entire experience when they interact with your content. Start a conversation. A few pieces of important information, paired with a well thought out question can be a powerful way to begin. What starts as just a few small seeds planted in the rich soil of a good social media platform, can end up evolving into an entire movement. Communication is precious. It’s a reflection of our education, values, norms, and most importantly, our potential. It’s an extension of us. Of our communities and our creativity. And the “tectonic shift” in how we communicate puts your voice at the center of the conversation.