The Toxic Tie Between Social Media and Journalism

Geoff Livingston
5 min readJul 22, 2020

Social media wrought a sea change in the journalism industry, changing form, delivery mechanism, and content style. To survive, many mastheads transformed into social media and digital outlets, creating new provocative content to foster engagement online and generate revenue. The end result has been polarizing, less factual, and in general, toxic for our society.

Many traditional print newspapers did not adapt in time and shuttered their doors, a process that continues to this day. Surviving mastheads adapted to the social format.

To do that, social network algorithms must be triggered to serve content, in turn causing content that’s engineered to create shares, comments, and replies. Clicks equate to page views, which equate to new readers, advertising dollars, and in the case of paywalled publications, new subscribers. Journalism evolved its content form to engage rather than inform.

The new digital content leans towards sensationalized opinion-driven content that provokes clicks in social networks, like Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, and more. Whether incendiary, vapid, partisan, or over-wrought, the new journalism bates targeted public audiences.

Why label this as toxic? One could say the turn to digital is a natural evolution.

If you consider the partisan tribal nature of today’s mastheads, small and large, it’s hard to ignore the impact. A good portion of the public cannot discern facts in a narrative designed to provoke engagement first.

Consider today’s political crisis, the increased social division between urban and rural communities, and the significant race tensions in the country. The current outcomes are in part due to the way content is crafted.

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Geoff Livingston

Digital marketing pioneer. Founder of Generative Buzz.