In different reports by Dscout and Deloitte, Budd (2017) reports that the average American will spend 40% of their day switching between the world and their screens, even in the middle of the night. So, what about the other 60%. According to Klemm (2014), in between switching focus from smartphones, an individual will spend the majority of their day looking at a screen, such as computers, televisions, cab, and elevators. Screens are everywhere today, and this raises the question of where does all this information come from, and what is the intention behind this relentless bombardment? It is no surprise that the internet is the chief information source, primarily used by the young generation to connect and by advertisers to reach a wider audience. Besides this, studies conducted by different interest groups, such as Commonsensemedia, on 853 children aged 10 – 18 reveals that these young adults primarily use their screens and internet connection to stay updated about the world around them (Robb, 2017).
It, therefore, creates a dilemma that was phrased by Mark Twain. Besides, more recently, in a rebuke against the media by Denzel Washington to express the view that those who do not read the news are uninformed while those who do are misinformed (Seybold, 2018). This is even more important in today’s society where people rely on the internet for their news, news that is sometimes fake, while others are not credible at all. Therefore, this research paper is an analysis of society’s reliance on internet news and the lack of trustworthy information. It will discuss the difference between internet news and traditional news outlets, their impacts on the upcoming generations, and the challenges for reliability.
Society’s Reliability on Internet News and its Credibility
Before the rise of the internet and internet news, people relied on newspapers and magazines to keep updated. However, these sources were at least 24 hours out of date. As a result, people would wait for a specific time of the day and watch the news on their television. However, with the internet, individuals, especially generation Z do not have to wait around for the radio or TV, they can just google the latest news and get them anytime, in real-time (Godlewski, 2016). Additionally, they are not limited to the news, specially curated by the media houses. They can keep updated about anything, from the latest thing their favourite celebrity is doing to serious matters they have been keeping track of. There also are tools, like Google News, that can send notifications when certain events or news items are posted.
It, therefore, raises the question of the reliability of internet news as compared to traditional media. In a study conducted by Cassidy (2007) on the reliability of internet news, respondents to a survey reported that cable TV news was the most credible, hence reliable, and followed by national and local newspapers. However, what is it about internet news that hurts their credibility and reliability? According to Chung et al. (2012), internet news is less trusted because the journalism standards for these news items are much lower. The information does not undergo rigorous factual checking and analysis before it is used. Additionally, there is little to no separation between biased and unbiased information and its presentation, a golden standard of traditional journalism and news reporting.
However, this does not point towards the root cause. To do this, attention is returned to work carried out by Cassidy (2007), who, instead of focusing on the reliability of online news, looked into the perceptions of journalists towards internet news. As a result, Cassidy (2007) discovered that even though newspaper journalists rated internet news as not credible, the emergence of internet news as the primary news source has changed their views, especially with the efforts that have gone into making it so.
Internet News Sources
Regardless, what are these internet news sources? According to Chung et al. (2012), internet news sources are classified into three broad categories. The first group is the mainstream news sources like the New York Times. Following these are the independent news sources like Axisoflogic. Finally, there are those index-based sources that accumulate news items from all over the internet. An excellent example of this is Google News. However, this classification is either not conclusive or is outdated because it ignores other internet news sources, especially two that are of significance to this paper. First are the fake news sites. Though the news items are entirely unreliable, most people do not know how to differentiate them from reliable news sources and would trust the information obtained from within (Robb, 2017).
Secondly, and more important, news from social media sites, like Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, among others. They are essential because these are the sources where the young generation (gen Z and millennial) go for their daily fix of news. According to Godlewski (2016), 44% of the teenagers and young adults use the features provided by apps like Snapchat (Live Story and Discover) to check on their favourite news sources and read the updated articles.
Besides, this reliability by society on internet news is apparent from the drop in the viewership statistics of traditional media outlets like TV. To understand the significance of this phenomenon, Silverman (2019) compares the viewership data of TV during peak periods, like the Thanksgiving weekend. For instance, in 2019, 33% less American households tuned in to watch the Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (Silverman, 2019). It is in contrast with a 42% drop in the viewership ratings for the National Dog Show in the same period. From this, it can be said that the attention has been diverted elsewhere, and it is most likely from one screen to another.
Why Rely on Internet News?
The question posed but left unanswered so far is why individuals and families are switching to internet news so suddenly. Since the young generation is the largest consumer of internet news and online content, this argument will be discussed from their points of view. It should be noted that despite the arguments made below, kids today regard news as significant parts of their lives, even more so than their parents and older generations (Robb, 2017).
So, why does the younger generation rely heavily on internet news? Firstly, according to Robb (2017), kids still value news; the only thing that has changed is that they are more flexible in terms of the news items they follow and consume. Through the internet, they can follow news that is of personal interest to them, not news curated for them by media houses. Additionally, they also have tools and apps that search the news for them and deliver through simple notifications.
Secondly, the way traditional news is prepared and presented does not suit their style. In the survey, Robb (2017) reported that 75% of the respondents felt that the traditional media outlets were reporting news about them but to their parents. As a result, the kids felt misrepresented, especially when the reporters were talking about them but covering matters that are of no importance to them and ignoring those that do. As a result, they turned to the internet where the content is catered specifically for them. Again, it is written by people who genuinely understand what they think and are going through.
Thirdly, society today is one where awareness about different issues is through the charts. These issues range from the state of global warming to social inequalities, racial, and gender biases. This awareness has also led the society members to take their positions on the issues. As a result, when a kid who is aware of the racial and gender issues being misrepresented or mishandled, it lowers their trust in the sources. As people who care deeply about these issues, the kids sometimes get angry, scared, and depressed (Robb, 2017). If such a source is a traditional media outlet, then they will stop consuming that content as conflicts with their world view. As a result, kids will continue to rely on the internet news, where the material is written by people who are similarly aware of the issues and present them as is.
There is a pitfall to this, however. There are no gatekeepers for internet news. As a result, anyone can write anything about anyone, true or false, biased or unbiased, and post in as a credible news item. It is the realm of fake news, and it is a problem for kids who highly trust their online news sources (Robb, 2017). It does not mean that traditional news organizations have been left behind. Instead, they have adapted to the change of times and form mainstream news sources. Therefore, in response to fake news, teenagers and young adults will trust these reliable and credible media outlets more.
In this manner, society is stuck between two hard places. First, with the internet, individuals get the freedom to pursue their interests and follow news items they want. It leads to them relying heavily on the internet for updates. However, the downside is that part of consuming internet news has to learn to trust which sources and ignore others. It is because even without fake news spoiling the broth, unsubstantiated and uncredited news items still make it to the reader’s screens. These are harder to spot, as compared to fake news, and are high risk when consuming internet news. However, the kids have developed a defence mechanism where they only trust news items from verified and trustworthy sources like mainstream media and consume the rest with a spoon of salt.
Impact on the Human way of Life
However, as much as it is interesting to discuss society’s reliability on internet news and the lack of credited information, it would be remiss to ignore the impact it has had on the way of Life. Yes, internet news has opened up people’s minds, mainly when they are motivated to follow news about different awareness campaigns of interest to them. Reliance on internet news has also resulted in a trust deficit, therefore, making people more jaded online and sometimes insensitive. However, these are issues that are the tip of the iceberg. The real meat of how society’s reliance on internet news has impacted the human way of Life lies with how the devices used as well as the delivery mechanisms, are affecting social, cognitive, and behavioural functions.
The first impact is that internet news, as well as consuming online content, is a significant source of distraction. There are a lot of exciting things to see, read, and do online. As a result, attention has become a premium commodity to be marketed and profited from (Budd, 2017). However, with a lot of attention-seeking content, the brain adapted (thanks to neuroplasticity) to become capable of switching quickly between tasks. The point is, the brain has become so good at it, that people do it effortlessly, but at the cost of the ability to focus or pay attention.
To prove this, different researchers performed different experiments. For example, a team hung cash from a tree in Chicago and observed the number of passers-by who noticed it. 94% failed to notice the money, especially those who were using their smartphones (Budd, 2017).
Another team from Japan compared the performance of different groups doing an activity; one group with a writing pad and the other with a smartphone (Budd, 2017). The results of this experiment showed that using smartphones reduced the cognitive performance of an individual. Finally, in a study by a researcher at Florida State University, it was discovered that notifications had the most impact as they could distract, switch attention, or prompt mind wandering (Stothart, 2015).
Therefore, consuming online content, such as internet news, affects not only the cognitive processes but also behavioral patterns. It is because it results in anxiety, especially when the individual has been disconnected for relatively too long. However, with this data, there is no way the claims can be substantiated. Maybe this is how things have always been.
To substantiate it, a comparison needs to be made to look into the behavioural and cognitive performance of older adults who grew up without the internet. According to Budd (2017), young brains growing on the internet have adapted to processing information faster to switch seamlessly between tasks. However, when compared to the cognitive performance of older adults, research shows that older people focus better and hence learn quickly because they have more resilient attention spans (Wilson & Gottman, 2014).
What to Do?
Despite the negative influences of consuming online media, why should individual care? According to Budd (2017), people should care because as long as the attention span is being affected, the ability to concentrate on a task for extended periods will become a valuable job skill in the near future. Therefore, how do you improve your attention span? Are you are less immune to distractions?
The first thing one should do is perform tasks that keep one’s attention for an extended time, excluding online content such as internet news. One such activity is reading a novel or a book. According to Berns et al. (2013), reading a novel increases connectivity in the brain regions associated with language and, as a result, showed persistent results even days after putting the book down.
Alternatively, one can let their brains relax and decompress by either playing an instrument or mediating. Since these tasks are complex, they require the mind to focus, and by doing them regularly, the brain can learn to be resilient to distractions. This ability can then be transferred to other activities that require the mind to focus for extended periods
In summary, this paper has looked into the emerging phenomenon where society is growing more reliant on internet news despite its lack of credibility and substantiation. The primary drivers of this pattern were discovered to be that the younger generations are finding that traditional news outlets do not suit their tastes or misrepresent them sometimes. Therefore, they turn to internet news where they have the freedom to choose the news items they prefer to follow. However, the lack of credibility, as well as the growth of fake news sites and items, makes it harder. It is not to mention the detrimental effect consuming online content has on attention, memory, and the ability to learn. It is, therefore, essential to take active measures that remediate these influences, such as reading a book or meditating.
Berns, G. S., Blaine, K., Prietula, M. J., & Pye, B. E. (2013). Short-and long-term effects of a novel on connectivity in the brain. Brain connectivity, 3(6), 590-600.
Budd, K. (2017). Attention Spans, Focus Affected By Smartphone Use. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-2017/mental-focus-smartphone-use.html.
Cassidy, W. P. (2007). Online news credibility: An examination of the perceptions of newspaper journalists. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2), 478-498.
Chung, C. J., Nam, Y., & Stefanone, M. A. (2012). Exploring online news credibility: The relative influence of traditional and technological factors. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17(2), 171-186.
Godlewski, N. (2016). Yahoo is now a part of Verizon Media. Uk.news.yahoo.com. https://uk.news.yahoo.com/teens-getting-almost-news-snapchat-191328373.html?guccounter=1.
Klemm, W. (2014, October). Educational Reform: Using the Internet to Teach the Learning Skills Cycle. In E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education (pp. 1027-1036). Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).
Robb, M. (2017). Our New Research Shows Where Kids Get Their News and How They Feel About It. Commonsensemedia.org. https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/our-new-research-shows-where-kids-get-their-news-and-how-they-feel-about-it.
Seybold, M. (2018). The Apocryphal Twain: “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do, you’re misinformed.” – Centre for Mark Twain Studies. Centre for Mark Twain Studies. https://marktwainstudies.com/the-apocryphal-twain-if-you-dont-read-the-newspaper-youre-uninformed-if-you-do-youre-misinformed/.
Silverman, J. (2019). Early Holiday Trends Show Continued Decline in TV Viewership | Samba TV Audience Platform. Samba TV Audience Platform. https://platform.samba.tv/early-holiday-trends-show-continued-decline-in-tv-viewership/.
Stothart, C., Mitchum, A., & Yehnert, C. (2015). The attentional cost of receiving a cell phone notification. Journal of experimental psychology: human perception and performance, 41(4), 893.
Wilson, B. J., & Gottman, J. M. (2014). Attention—the shuttle between emotion and cognition: Risk, resiliency, and physiological bases. In Stress, coping, and resiliency in children and families (pp. 199-238). Psychology Press.