Greek youth: When Facebook trumps traditional media
Young people in Greece no longer watch the news. At least not often, and they are not ashamed to say it. The general consensus among young Greeks is that the Fourth Estate is no longer trustworthy; it is only used to spread fear so that politicians behind the media corporations can get their way. But if they read the news selectively and full of doubt, how do they stay informed?
A report released this year by the Reuters Institute for Journalism revealed that Greeks have the lowest rate globally in trusting media with only 23% (compared to, for example, the highest rate of 62% recorded in Finland). Greece is also the only European country to trust social media more than traditional media outlets.
In addition, over half the respondents (57%) in Greece and Turkey are avoiding the news, compared with fewer than one in ten in Japan (6%). One of the main reasons for this ‘media avoidance’ is the ‘negative’ news constantly broadcast; regarding the economy, politics, corruption, accidents, war, bloody conflicts and terrorism attacks around the world. News that not only contribute to increasing fear and agony for a future that is already blurred, but also result in further dampening an already low morale and bad psychological state. Consequently, people prefer not to know, endorsing that ‘ignorance is bliss’.
Avoiding news that offers nothing positive
“I only read news that falls into my attention,” says Dimitris, a 28-year old microsystem technician living in Athens. “The media don’t tell us the truth. And there is nothing pleasant to see. It’s all about disasters, conflicts, war, crimes, and they constantly have politicians speaking all day long.” Dimitris’ experience shows just how important it is for a population to trust their national news organisations. The more their trust in news decreases, the more they avoid staying informed.
Many young Greeks believe that the news is often tainted, and headlines are created depending on how ‘clickable’ they are. Andreas, 26 from Corinth, shares this opinion: “Media are misleading the people by tampering with the news they are transmitting so as to attract audience/readers. The headlines often never represent what the news is truly about. And interviews are so dissected that there is no cohesion in what is said, consequently losing the truth,” he adds. Like in many other countries, the news in Greece is sensationalised, often misquoting on purpose or manipulating the story so as to reveal something more ‘shocking’, something that will cause an impact – often negative – on readers. But this is not to say that all news stories are negative. It’s just that the latter always gain more attention.
The great co-dependency between politics and journalism
This wave of pessimism washing over young Greeks is also due to the fact that they wholeheartedly believe politicians have too much influence on what’s being published. Greece has a bad reputation of interlacing political agendas in news organisations. “In Greece, the media’s main characteristic is the co-dependency between politics and journalism,” says Maria, a 33-year-old communications expert in Athens. “Every media is affiliated to a political party and follows the relevant ‘line’,” she adds, noting that, “the exceptions of independent media are very few.” Apart from Rizospastis, which is the mouthpiece of the communist party, other media in the country haven’t officially proclaimed their affiliation. However, young and old Greeks can easily discern from the headlines and general tone of the news coverage a specific media’s political affiliation.
Although most young Greeks believe that readers themselves can cross-reference news and determine the validity of what they are reading, trying to push out ‘fake news’, independent media outlets are limited.
Yet, while Dimitris believes that “people are treated like sheep; they eat what they are fed by the media, often acting out of fear that they will be punished if done otherwise,” George, a 23-year-old IT professional from the Peloponnese still thinks that there is room for improvement: “News must become more objective, broadcasting more points of view, researching and analysing the story, so that the public can form a well-rounded understanding [of what’s going on].”
The turn to social media
Having had enough of unreliable news from traditional news sources, young Greeks turn to social media. In fact, a whopping 69% of the population use social media as a news source. Facebook is used by 62% of the population, and 32% use YouTube to stay informed. In addition, Greece is also the only country in the world that believes social media do a better job in separating fact from fiction than traditional news media, but this is linked more to the low opinion Greeks have of news media in general rather than the quality of information provided.
The high use of social media by Greeks can also be associated to the fact that Greeks in general like to comment and judge on current affairs, be it politics, sports or simply gossip. Perhaps this is why they demonstrate such a profound presence in social media and why they tend to trust them more, because it is here that they are given the chance to – in some way – participate, react, and express their view.
Social media, used abundantly by young Greeks, is considered fast and direct; a source from which they can be informed at all times and anywhere. Tassos Morfis, editor-in-chief and co-founder of AthensLive, a non-profit social media platform, says that he prefers online information because “Greek television is of very low quality and print is too expensive.” In fact, he explains that AthensLive was the first non-profit news media whose initial capital was gathered through crowd funding, in the “hope that providing a sustainable alternative to traditional news outlets will inspire change in a widely corrupt media landscape.”
“I use social media to keep an eye on developments and have a better ability to judge the decisions of our politicians,” says Andreas. However, the fact that social media has no fact-checking tool and is open to anyone means that information is not always reliable. Vasia, 25, administrative assistant from Corfu, is aware of these dangers and points out that “it is easier for online media to manipulate the truth, as they give access to everyone to have a voice and an opinion.”
“The paradox is that social media does not produce information, rather they are based on the redistribution of conventional, traditional means,” says Stylianos Papathanassopoulos, professor of Media Organization and Policy at the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (UoA).
The level of exaggeration seen in media is what is disliked the most, as is the increasing amount of ‘opinionated journalism’ where reporters have become commentators, intervening in the news they are only supposed to report. “In the past, journalists were powerful guardians of democracy, holding high standards of political speech and criticising the improper behaviour of state officials whenever possible,” remarks Professor Papathanassopoulos. At present, journalists have not only lost the public’s trust, but due to the diffusion of social media, “they risk becoming ‘followers’ instead of ‘leaders’,” he adds.
The most prominent example of this media propaganda is the period during the 5th of July 2015 referendum to decide whether Greece was to accept the bailout conditions in the country's government-debt crisis proposed jointly by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. The period was seen as intensely-propaganda ridden, particularly by traditional politically affiliated media and as a result, “even the last of our co-citizens who trusted traditional media lost all signs of trust,” according to Tassos.
What was most blatant about the way the referendum was covered by all media (including social media) was that the question of whether to accept bailout terms was quickly converted into a question of whether the country should remain in the EU. Easily seen as brain-washing, all media had a large (and negative) part to play in misinforming citizens about the real question at hand. The majority of media outlets resorted to scaremongering and openly referred to a ‘yes’ vote as “a positive nod to the EU.”
Reversing the distrust?
But can this distrust in the media be reversed? The youth believes things will either not change, or it will take a very long time for them to do so. With pessimism in his eyes, Dimitris says that: “It is the political system as a whole that needs to change, as it is the politicians that have deprived the people of independent judgement and they are the ones pulling the strings,” while Andreas thinks that “more impartial journalism is needed, one that views political facts independently of the ruling government.” Professor Papathanassopoulos underlines that “traditional media outlets need to return to their initial values and produce content addressing the new generations,” while journalist Tassos has a more radical proposal: “traditional media should default without state support and unemployed journalists should establish their own cooperative, non-profit media without advertisements and with primary reports.”
The financial crisis, felt so deeply in Greece, has caused the country’s youth to work unpaid overtime, unjustifiably long hours and sometimes two or more jobs just to get by. They don’t really have time for much else. Watching the news is not among their priorities especially since, in their opinion, it simply reiterates the abjection of current societies and perpetuates the reason why things have become so grim.