The Hole in Social Media

News of R.E.M.'s decision to break up spread like wild fire on social media, but the back story went largely unlit.It only took moments for fans to learn R.E.M., an alternative rock band that began in Athens, Georgia in 1980 and became a mainstream favorite, was calling it quits. The news spread quickly on social media. But the story told and retold on Twitter and Facebook posts was quickly encased in reminisces and opinions. The back story of why they quit was lost in the shuffle.

The R.E.M. experience underlines an intriguing question — are social media sites good news sources?

The answer is "yes" and 'no."

Twitter is an excellent tool to stay on top of breaking news events. You can follow several news sources — a national publication, a local TV station, NPR — to monitor headlines.

Many people use their Facebook pages to share stories of interest from traditional media, blogs or special interest sources. Assuming your Facebook friends share fairly common interests, you can discover stories you might never see otherwise.

On the flip side, people accompany their tweets and Facebook posts with personal comments and opinions. After all, social media is intended to nourish engagement. But these personal perspectives and viewpoints frequently become the fuses of conversations that range far beyond the original story.

On its website, R.E.M. band members offered quotes about their decision to move on. For example, singer Michael Stipe observed, "A wise man once said, 'The skill in attending a party is knowing when it's time to leave.'" Clever quote, but not really an explanation of why quit now?

The group had finished a tour and is coming out with a new album featuring its greatest hits. Was the decision a savvy marketing move to boost sales of the album? Were band members burned out? Despite drummer Bill Berry's insistence that "there's no disharmony here, no falling-outs, no lawyers squaring off," was there an underlying discontent or a musical disagreement?

People count on professional journalists to answer questions like that, but it usually takes time to ferret out back stories. It is rarely possible to get to the bottom of a story the instant a decision is made or an incident occurs.

The value — and it is a great value — of social media is its immediacy. The hole in what it offers is often depth. You may find out what happened, but have no idea why it happened.

At least for now, it is why keeping an eye on both social media and traditional media makes sense, especially if you want the whole story.

Link: REM's website