Almost As Many Americans Are Getting Ukraine News From Social Media As From TV


According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in the summer of 2020, eight-in-ten Americans were getting news from their digital devices. In addition, slightly more than half – 53 percent – said they were getting news from social media.

Clearly, social media’s power in spreading news can’t be overstated. That is especially true when it comes to following the coverage of the war in Ukraine.

Earlier this month, data from a study conducted by the National Research Group (NRG), which was provided to The Hill, found that 58 percent of Americans learned about the conflict in Ukraine through social media, compared to 65 percent who received their news from TV. Younger users – those 18- to 24-year-olds – were more likely to learn about what was happening in Ukraine from social media. Seventy-eight percent of young adults received their news from social media, while just 46 said they were following the events via TV.

“The social media response to the Ukraine crisis is reminiscent of the Arab Spring in 2010. The difference is that the response is not just local but worldwide. Just as TV made us queasy about and sparked opposition to Vietnam a generation ago, so is social media doing about Ukraine,” said James Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business.

“Using social media as a news source has become more and more common in the last decade,” Bailey explained. “Folks just don’t trust traditional news outlets. They are considered elitist and slimy informed. Like it or not, ‘crowd-sourcing’ is the way of today. Wikipedia users prefer you and me posting entries as opposed to scholars who’ve devoted their life to studying the subject in question.”

Two-Way Communication

It isn’t surprising that younger Americans are finding out about Ukraine – as well as other high profile events – via social media. They tend to be less glued to the TV, but also tend to engage digitally with others.

“Traditional media is designed for mass consumption which means they are targeted at mass consumers while social media involves targeted two-way communication which means the message can be addressed to a targeted audience or individual users involving a consumer’s emotions. Highly emotionally provocative information stands a stronger chance of lingering in our minds and being incorporated into long-term memory,” said Marina Alvelais, the dean of Psychology within College of Social Sciences and Humanities at CETYS University.

“Effective interventions can nudge social media users to think about accuracy, and can leverage crowdsourced veracity ratings to improve social media ranking algorithms,” added Alvelais. “The preference for reading the news on social media involves both attention capacity and social interaction needs.”

Change of Perception

Media has long influenced American opinions, especially in wartime. This was true of the “yellow journalism” of the Spanish-American War, and it was the nightly reports from Vietnam that has been credited with turning the public opinion against the war in Southeast Asia.

Social media is certainly influencing how people feel about the conflict in Ukraine.

“Can you imagine the change in U.S. perception during the Iraq War if TikTok, Instagram and memes controlled the conversation as they do now for Ukraine? Social media has become the generating narrative for all news, and wars have shown to be no different,” suggested Dr. Dustin York, associate professor of communication at Maryville University.

Social media also allows engagement that wasn’t previously possible with other media.

“It’s easy to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine or forwarding news feeds about it while sitting cross-legged at a coffee shop enjoying a cappuccino,” noted Bailey.

However, this engagement won’t lead to real change, he warned.

“There’s nothing brave or courageous about it, neither is there anything clever or novel about it,” Bailey continued. “It’s progress that the world’s voice can be heard, to be sure. But voicing an opinion on Ukraine – or any other world event – hardly makes one an activist.”



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