Will your newsroom be ready when social media transparency becomes regulated?

Social media transparency is about to get regulated: here’s what it means for your newsroom.

By Tim Wolff, Futuri’s VP, TV and Digital Publishing Innovation

The talk–and there’s been a lot of it in recent years–is becoming more than talk. Bipartisan bills have been introduced; the public wants action. Even the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, says, “The place where we have the best chance at progress is legislating a certain amount of transparency.”

The main driver, of course, is that so many people use social media and that there is little clarity or consistency around how each social platform chooses the content we see. Toss in a dash of global election interference and warnings that addictive social media is harming our psyche, and you can see where transparency regulation sounds good for consumers.

But what about newsrooms?

An accurate and in-the-moment understanding of the topics and stories people are sharing and seeing on social media has enormous benefits for newsrooms, who are, after all, trying to report and create content about what interests the most people. As the news events of 2022 unfold in a year that will mark the dawn of social media’s legislated transparency, newsroom strategies for monitoring social media will shift as access to more and different social data becomes available.

It’s foggy at best how social platforms will evolve data sharing in post-regulation. For now, newsrooms need to be careful not to put all their eggs into one basket. A reliance on data coming solely from the social media company itself could become disruptive if the company stops or changes how and what it shares, which currently would be an entirely legal decision on their part.

Consider, for example, CrowdTangle. They were launched as an independent, free-to-use social monitoring tool bought by Facebook in 2016. CrowdTangle is used in almost every newsroom in the U.S. Journalists log in using their personal Facebook account to access a depth of data culled from public Facebook Pages and Groups, Instagram accounts, and the most popular subreddits. But that can all change in a hurry.

This week, news came out that the co-founder of CrowdTangle, Brandon Silverman, left Facebook and is now working with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to shape laws intended to make social media more transparent. Silverman also told the New York Times that the CrowdTangle team was disbanded last fall, and the product was being moved under Facebook’s integrity team. He also says it became an annoyance within Facebook, making it unclear how long Facebook will support it.

That’s one reason we have always focused on a much broader range of data here at Futuri. With TopicPulse, the most advanced AI-driven social data tool, we track data from Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and over 100,000 news publishers. Because we monitor all these different sources and publishers, our partners are covered and won’t be disrupted by one social company shutting something down.

We also include real people as part of the mix, helping monitor and manage the artificial intelligence that brings real-time, live demographic data and predictive analysis to thousands of stories every minute.

We believe in data, we believe in transparency, and we believe in constantly improving the best tools that help newsrooms spend less time unraveling the data behind trending stories so they can concentrate on serving their communities.

Here are our top pro tips to help your newsroom track social media for content:

  • Have a broad scope of data sources
  • Choose information that can be widely accessed in your newsroom; if only one or two people have access, that’s a significant risk for you
  • Track more than just your brand(s) social media and your competitors; after all, that’s only a tiny portion of the average consumer’s social media activity
  • Remember, it’s not a zero-sum game between you and the other TV/Radio/Newspapers in town. Social and digital are virtually unlimited, and you have endless opportunities to grow your brand
  • Keep a healthy skepticism about any self-reporting platform
  • Track trending news topics outside of your news team’s comfort zone (we tend to live in similar areas, follow similar social media, and only reflect a portion of our communities)
  • Ask for (or demand) transparency whenever possible, just as we should be as transparent as possible with our news consumers
  • Ask your news team how much time they spend mining social media for news and tips. Then have them track it to get the actual number
  • Look for tools that can save your news team time and get them the essential information they need (you’ll need AI, and you’ll see an immediate positive impact on your team and your news)
  • Take a look at what personal data your news team has had to share to get access to tech or social media data; journalists are under fire as never before, and it’s a good idea to have a cybersecurity expert review the risks journalists have taken in exposing private information to tech and social media companies
  • Stay up to date on changes in social, AI, and media technology by following on LinkedIn, Twitter, or your platform of choice
Tim Wolff is Vice President of TV and Digital Publishing Innovation at Futuri. He has 20+ years of experience as a digital and broadcasting leader who’s led top-performing teams across the country at companies including Gannet, Belo, and Cox Media Group Ohio, which includes three daily newspapers, three radio stations, WHIO-TV, and more. Wolff, who holds a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Missouri, also makes a mean green chile stew.
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