“This book is for anybody interested in news, social media and the issues raised by the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” says its co-author, Angela Phillips a Hackney resident and Goldsmiths Professor.
Misunderstanding News Audiences, written by Professor Phillips and Dr Eiri Elvestad, aims to dispel some of the myths built around social media and its impact on news audiences.
Drawing conclusions from comparative, international research, its goal is to “encourage readers to re-evaluate popular beliefs about the influence of the Internet on news consumption and democracy.”
“With each new technical change in the way in which we disseminate media – and this goes all the way back to the dawn of print – there has been a period of anarchic disorganised experimentation,” said Professor Phillips.
“Each time people herald the change as a new dawn of understanding and democracy, and each time the elites colonise these new spaces.”
The authors conclude that just as European Governments intervened to nationalise the telegraph and to take broadcasting into public ownership: “It may now be time to consider whether it is in the interests of democracy for the major communication platforms to be owned by private companies operating globally.”
“Search and social media should be seen as public utilities and as such they need to be operated in the public interest. At the moment they are optimised to take advantage of emotional impulses,” said Phillips.
“That is why hate speech and anger rise to the top while reason and debate are relegated to the sidelines.”
In an article for The Conversation in early March, Phillips wrote about the myth that the internet has improved democracy:
“[T]he internet always boosts the most popular voice in every niche, so the biggest news providers are still the most read, and small news publications struggle for funds.
“More than 200 local newspapers have closed in the UK since 2015.
“Certainly there is more choice if you look for it, but the biggest concern is the number of people across the world have simply tuned out altogether and choose to watch kittens and comedy rather than news.”
Phillips also wrote in a Huffington Post article that it was a worrying thing that many people shunned the news altogether while young people depended on social media for news:
“If you watch TV news you will see the items considered important by the editors of the day.
“If you get news on YouTube or Facebook and your main interests in life are pop music and celebrities then the chances are that you won’t hear much about events in Ukraine.
“The sources may well be varied but the subjects may not be.
“Then if your uncle Gerald is a Ukip supporter, who regularly posts stories from the Daily Mail, Sun and Express, along with memes from Leave.EU, you may get them too.”
East London Lines
Phillips founded the East London Lines nine years ago to help journalism students at Goldsmiths to practice and improve their news gathering and reporting skills.
“It’s a work in progress,” she said about the website that serves tens of thousands of readers a month.
“It changes and develops with every new group of people, and it is only ever as good as the students who run it.
“Last year, when I met the Mayor of Hackney, he complimented ELL and said how important he believed it to be for the local news landscape,” said Phillips.
To young students who work on ELL, Phillips has this message: “Hold onto your principles and believe in change.”