About a week ago, I was telling my colleague about how we should do a study about how social network sites are increasingly becoming people’s initial (if not primary) news source. “Someone studying journalism has probably already done that,” she said. Not surprisingly, today Pew reported about how people receive news from people they follow on social network sites (the main report was about how the Internet is now an important platform for news). The three main points (3Ps) that Pew made were:
• Portable: 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.
• Personal: 28% of internet users have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.
• Participatory: 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.
I’m working on a theory which I’ve named “crystallization theory” which is an adaptation of cultivation theory (hopefully no one will steal this idea; I’m always torn between getting my ideas out there and waiting for the long turnaround of academic publication since by the time it’s published, the idea will probably be stale). Cultivation theory says that TV, as the main media, shapes what individuals perceive as being reality and creates a “mainstream” perception of reality. My crystallization theory is that the Internet (mainly social networks) shapes what individuals perceive as being reality, but since everyone has different networks and preferences that create strong homophily effects, this will result in different clusters of “crystal” realities in which everyone thinks they are mainstream, but there is no true mainstream. I’m trying to think of research designs that would empirically prove this.
But going back to the idea of getting your news from your social networks…this isn’t so much of a new idea, since old studies have already shown that people get their news from their friends or work colleagues (although in those days, they were referring to offline word-of-mouth, not the Internet). Last year, I remember David Weinberger also saying something to this effect: he said the emails were how people were getting their news. So what with emails, RSS feeds, Twitter, and services like Google Reader already in existance, I was extremely annoyed that Facebook got a patent for its newsfeed. Hopefully it will not abuse the patent, like Worlds.com has been doing. Having said that, perhaps I too should file a very general patent about technology and human behavior and retire early.
Meanwhile, I’m working on refining my paper on Tweeting About TV, which presents a nice method (if I may say so myself) of analyzing social message streams, although the main focus is how people are engaging in social television-viewing behavior. I will be presenting this paper at ICA in June. Email me at yvettewohn[at]gmail.com if you would like to see a draft.