Oh what a year...
As 2016 draws to a close, we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief (and prepare to hold our breaths for what 2017 may bring.) One surprising, extraordinary or shocking event after another was reflected in our usage of digital media. It wasn’t just the political events either; between the EU referendum and the US election was… well, Pokémon Go.
Twitter downsized this year, cutting 9% of their worldwide staff and shutting down their video site Vine, but the social media outlet definitely still played a starring role. 128,000 people tweeted in the minute after the final whistle blew when England got knocked out of the Euros, while Donald Trump’s Twitter account was arguably a hugely helpful tool in getting him elected. In 140 characters or less, Trump regularly spoke his mind reminding people just how ‘real’ the @realDonaldTrump was. Its power to break news is undeniable, but with trolling on the rise the debate we're having in our office is whether 2016 was twitter's peak? Answers in 140 characters @atlas_comms #peaktwitter ...obviously.
Snapchat, hitting 10 million daily active users in the UK this year, was the real social media success story. The app, which allows users to send and receive ‘self-destructing’ pictures, videos and text, is here to stay as as a channel to report our lives in rainbow star-bursting real-time. The rate at which brands have adopted the stories function shows its success, but when Michelle Obama joined in June, it officially hit the mainstream.
Video is still king
Though 2015 was the year when YouTube first surpassed Google when it came to search, video remained regal in 2016. It gave us another helpful reminder that pictures speak a thousand words: and whatever you do, if you’re caught on video, it will come back to haunt you. Despite this, the 2005 clip of Trump’s ‘lewd’ comments about women was not enough to deter the voters.
Similarly, shortly after Paul Nuttall was elected as leader of UKIP, Stewart Lee’s 2013 ‘Paul Nuttalls of the Ukips’ routine resurfaced on social media. As Lee himself poetically pointed out, videos these days tend to have the ability to “hang around the street corners of YouTube like homeless drunks, shouting and shorn of context, detached from the peculiarities of the times that shaped them, their relative merits debated enthusiastically by furious and illiterate racists from all over the globe”.
Also, the introduction of muted auto-play videos on Facebook and Twitter, underlined the importance of simple subtitles. So our new year's video resolutions? Keep it short, keep it square, provide action and a call to action to capture the attention of social media scrollers.
Having “a TV camera in your pocket” means that anyone with a smartphone is able to report the news live, as it happens. Though Vine is no more, Facebook live opened up to everyone in April 2016, was embraced by the mainstream media with CNN, ABC and NBC, using the medium to report the US election results in November. When the shooting of Philando Castile was filmed by girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, it made the news not only for the horrific nature of the act, but also for how it was reported.
Media under pressure
This citizen journalism further ups the pressure on journalists looking for an answer to the eternal question “What’s better: to be first or to be right?” The immediacy provided by social media threatens to take priority over the editorial standards of the print press; a lesson we can all learn from The Guardian’s ‘Traingate’ saga.
In wanting to be the first to break an exclusive Corbyn story in the midst of the leadership election, the newspaper accepted “gonzo” news written by a “passionate” supporter of Corbyn and published the story too fast. As the reality of the situation unfolded live on Twitter, it transpired that The Guardian had applied less scepticism and fewer checks than was necessary, and were too slow with corrections.
For the best analysis of the shifts in the economics of the media industry and how this is affecting content creation and distribution, we commend to you the Buzzfeed editor's annual memo. It is really worth the time.
As fact checking falls victim to speed, an opening has been created for news purposefully designed to bend the truth in favour of a clickable headline. Trump-favourite Breitbart is famed for it’s factually inaccurate stories, and though there are some who might argue that tabloids have been misleading readers for years the mainstream media is subject to scrutiny and imposes a self regulation that simply isn't matched online. In response just this month, Facebook introduced tools to help prevent fake news stories from spreading. Despite this we believe ‘fake news’ will be a trend that grows in 2017.
Some political highs and lows
Sadly, 2016 politics lacked a moment as classic as Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich, but with his clapping and water drinking, Michael Gove was a pretty good stand in. In the UK, Farage became ever more infamous and his ability to create his own version of the truth proved to be adaptable to both sides of the Atlantic. Then there was David Cameron, slinking off into the background (for now) to watch some basketball with new pal George W Bush… is a new special relationship brewing? We're not even going to talk about death and rape threats made against many of the women on the political front line because it's frankly just too depressing.
However, 2016 wasn’t all doom and gloom. Jacob Rees Mogg’s internet fanbase continues to grow, and he managed to get a £7.6m state rescue of his wife’s ancestral home from the Government. For the Labour Party, Ed Balls may not have won Strictly, but with his dedication to dad dancing he became a winner in many people’s eyes. Even his autobiography has had a revamp since he appeared on the show, it’s just a shame for the Labour Party they're not going to share in the royalties or the praise as a result.
The internet still loves cats
Finally, this year would not have been the same without the politicians’ cats that made the news. In what is, without a doubt, the perfect PR stunt, the rivalry between No.10 cat Larry and Palmerston, the Foreign Office cat next door, grabbed the media’s attention. With the recent additions of Gladstone in HM Treasury and Ossie and Evie, the two new Cabinet Office cats, it looks like the saga is set to continue into 2017.
Regardless, this obsession does undoubtedly highlight the lack of much real news being generated by the Government. Another trend for 2017? We hope not.