A few weeks ago, I scrolled through my Facebook feed before getting out of bed — a bad habit, and one that seems hard to break. In about two seconds, I learned the breaking story of the day.
"I don't understand. Prince is dead? Is this for real?"
I learned this news not from an impersonal television screen or from a newspaper ping on my phone, but from a friend who shared her grief with those she cares about.
Recently, my aunt said I seemed more in touch with what's going on in the world than usual, and she's right. I've never been big on the nightly news, where newscasters speak swiftly and report on the day's catastrophes; not to mention, along with an increasing number of Americans, I've ditched my television for streaming internet video. There's something empowering about being able to control when and where I decide to press play.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the last breaking news events I remember watching on TV in my own home. The channel played on repeat a video of a black man stealing from a convenience store during the riots that ensued after those in the area realized they would not get the help they needed. As I watched this slanted coverage, TV news and I began our final goodbye.
Of course, TV news isn't the only way to stay informed. A friend of mine reads through her favorite online news magazines each morning. She actively searches out current events in order to remain up to date about what's going on in the world. My aunt and uncle frequently listen to NPR, and more friends than I can count seek out stories through YouTube.
I, on the other hand, am downright lazy news-wise, but I don't feel less informed.
It's through Facebook that I learned about the recent Paris attacks. It's how I learned that Brian Williams got sacked, and that Gilmore Girls would finally create its encore performance. Through Facebook, I learned about the death of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, as well as the innocent black men and women whose tragedies gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Some say using Facebook as a news outlet makes for a narrow source. After all, we often choose our Facebook friends carefully, based on shared interests, real-life connections and an appreciation of each other's viewpoints. But, in my opinion, all news sources are narrow in their own way. Those who watch Fox News do so because they know they'll agree with the slant of the stories. The same is true with those who listen to NPR.
In a way, Facebook actually gives me broader access to news than I might get otherwise. For instance, I read several articles a day because they come across my feed, making it easy for me to click the link and read them through. When someone posts a video that seems intriguing, I watch it. If I notice an interesting article or video in the side bar of trending stories, I'll take it in as well. And, of course, I do further research anything I want to learn more about, regardless of whether I first saw it on Facebook.
Sure, I only spend time on what I already know will most likely align with my views, unless I'm reading or watching something in order to rail against it, as has the person who posted it on Facebook. That being said, I don't think I'm different from most Facebook users, in the sense that my friends and family list is fairly broad. I'm friends with conservative Christians and outspoken atheists. I have friends who decry against the idea of further gun restrictions, and I have ones who would like to see stricter gun laws. The shared links I end up reading are from countless websites, all with their own unique focus.
From my perspective, Facebook actually provides a means for society to become increasingly connected, especially as other news sources decline. When President Kennedy was shot, just about entire nation became aware of the tragedy through live news and radio broadcasts. The same was true with 9/11, and it was also largely true with Hurricane Katrina. In those moments, America felt connected as a nation, as everyone knew they were collectively receiving the information at the same time.
Now that our society is leaning more toward streaming and away from televised news, Facebook provides a medium for us to connect in a way that otherwise may have become obsolete — or at least compromised.
When I read my friend's post about Prince's death, I scrolled down to see more posts about the same topic, everyone collectively mourning their loss. Sure, no one has the same newsfeed as anyone else, so we're all getting information in extremely individual ways, but we're also able to connect to each other with fairly real-time interactions, especially during such monumental events.
I don't begrudge anyone for the way they choose to receive the news. We all learn about the world in our own ways and through our own mediums. For me, however, Facebook has been a great way to stay on top of current events in the company of those I care about. Instead of hearing or reading about breaking stories through an impersonal medium, I get to take them in with those I know, which makes the stories seem much more tangible, meaningful and impactful to the lives of everyone.