Editorial: the long arm of social media

Editorial: the long arm of social media

More people have more reach now that social media is a prevalent source of information

When Quesnel RCMP and the North District Emergency Response Team blocked off a few streets in West Quesnel last Thursday, many of you probably found out via social media.

We didn’t, in fact; but social media is absolutely one source of news tips we use, now that we are no longer able to listen to the police on scanners after the RCMP moved to encrypted communications. Concerned citizens post on community pages, and the ball starts rolling.

The Observer actually got a call-in tip that the RCMP were out in force on Thursday, but in an age where people would rather send a text message than pick up the phone, that kind of tip is becoming rare.

We got a story up to our website and the Observer Facebook feed as quickly as possible, and readers began to tag friends and share the story.

In a situation like that, Facebook was a valuable way for many people in one area to alert their friends and family of what was going on. The daycare operators in the old Ecole Baker, for example, were able to let the public know that they were aware of the situation and that all the children were OK. We saw another in-home daycare operator tagged, so that she was aware to keep her charges indoors as well.

Our live video on Facebook of the West Quesnel lock down had 9,100 views and was shared 110 times. The follow up article had a similar reach.

For the Observer, this is positive. We are able to gauge which stories interest our readers in real time, as we see views and shares rack up on stories, and if someone doesn’t like what we’ve published, we get that feedback immediately. In a digital world, we are able to definitively see what kind of reach our stories have.

On the flip side, social media can spread misinformation in a matter of minutes, and issues or opinions can be overblown in the social media echo chamber. Those with strong opinions may hear their own thoughts echoed back from like-minded individuals, while the majority stay silent.

Take, for example, the feedback the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure received regarding the AR-1 North-South Interconnector. The Ministry’s survey results found respondents overwhelmingly in favour of the Interconnector.

If you had been keeping up on the issue via social media posts ahead of those results, however, you might have been convinced public feeling went the other way.

Parents and teachers must now guide children and young adults in “media literacy”, a relatively new phenomenon. And those of us who came to social media as adults must also exercise caution, discovering for ourselves the truth in what we read.

Melanie Law

Quesnel Cariboo Observer