salve serif;”>With the obsession with social networking ever growing, Fiona Daly looks at the new approach to online reporting.

Social media has proven itself to be an integral part of daily life for this generation. With almost one billion accumulated users between Facebook and Twitter, not to mention Google+, Tumblr, YouTube and many more, they act as large countries where millions of netizens can share aspirations and opinions. Yet, such outlets have proven themselves to be much more than a source of entertainment. In a study carried out by CNN, 43% of people claim they use social media to share news, whilst statistics show 48% of young people get their news from Facebook. It is no longer reporters who possess the ability to impart breaking stories on large numbers of people. Now, those once deemed as “the audience” can collectively act as a broadcast network, sharing links without the involvement of a traditional media organisation.

Facebook pages continue to act as one the main resources for sharing news stories, enabling people to like, engage and comment whilst creators yearn for approval and “celebrity status.” In the wake of the recent flooding across the country, news that Dundrum Town Centre had been badly affected went viral in a matter of minutes. Pages such as: “Nothing like a good swim in River Island” and “Rounding up a Pirate crew and pillaging Dundrum Town Centre” inundated the news feed, with an invitation to “The Dundrum flood sale” receiving thousands of attendees in twenty-four hours. Whilst traditional media outlets have the added responsibility of verifying the facts of an event before reporting them, social media does not carry this burden. It is for this reason that Twitter and Facebook have often been first to break news of an important event, long before the story is reported by professional journalists.

Likewise, the death of the infamous Steve Jobs remained blissfully unknown to many until the news broke across social networking outlets. Twitter struggled to keep up with the outpouring of grief, with an astounding ten thousand tweets per second. Similarly, the news was shared amongst millions of people on Facebook and Google+. Pages such as “R.I.P Steve Jobs, you will be missed” and “Without you Apple is just a fruit. R.I.P Steve Jobs” were created by the dozen, making the tragic news known to millions of people for the first time.

Social media has closed in on traditional media to such an extent that it is now the driving force of many news organisations’ digital strategies. Years ago, reporters were unconvinced at the thought of creating a Twitter account whereas now, such reservations are irrelevant. The BBC, RTE, CNN and Sky News are just some organisations which have made efforts to embrace social network concepts, with Sky News in particular installing Twitter client Tweetdeck on each of its journalist’s computers. Publications have realised the value of being able to share content amongst large masses of people, something which was very difficult with older methods of publication. It is now possible to get news stories in real-time, with the news reaching large masses of people almost instantaneously.

Whilst the rampant obsession with social networking has countless advantages, one must remember to question the validity of much of what is said online. The term “news” refers to something which is factual and unbiased, yet social media allows people to make their own opinions and these opinions can often be influential. If such scepticism is obeyed, Twitter’s self-proclaimed position as an “information network” and Facebook’s ever-growing fan base will continue to act as an invaluable tool for those wishing to share and read up to date reports on the latest world events.