Digital News, Trust Issues

Print / Digital / Research


Social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, deliver digital news to users in visually deceptive ways. They format every article preview in the same way, even if the content comes from a parody or fake news organization. It's become harder to identify the difference between a fictitious and factual news report just by looking at the preview because the design commands such a level of trust and authority.

The two article previews, shown above, look nearly identical to each other. They both have a hero image, eye-catching headline and caption which helps to draw the reader's attention. So what's different about them? The first article is by The Onion, a satirical news organization, while the other is by an actual news outlet, The New York Times. The design of the preview makes any article look legitimate when it very well might not be. People think they'll find a full-length article after the preview given the way traditional newspapers work. 

From the research my teammates and I conducted during this five week project on digital news, we found that the majority of social media platforms fail to meet this expectation. This project was done in collaboration with Noah Johnson and Jessie Headrick

 Quote from a recent NY Times article (October 2017) highlighting the problem in the design of digital news previews.

Quote from a recent NY Times article (October 2017) highlighting the problem in the design of digital news previews.

Misleading Expectations

Twitter Moments is the epitome of the paradigm being discussed. When Twitter Moments first launched, Twitter described it as the "go-to place for casual news at a glance". They format their previews in the same way that Facebook does, as if it's attached to a full-length news article. What's shocking is that they don't even deliver a paragraph of content after the preview. They simply show tweets associated with the topic selected by an algorithm. It's not even moderated by a real person! There also isn't always a source attached to the piece of news. Twitter Moments essentially compiles its "articles" by crowdsourcing content from users on the platform.

Disappointed by this feature, we thought up a design intervention for how we could restructure the layout and design of the previews to better showcase casual news. Coming up with the designs and final prototype of this intervention was one of my main responsibilities in this group project. The main problem with Twitter Moments, as noted before, is that the design of the preview doesn't communicate that its a destination for casual news. First time users are not prepared to find tweets hiding behind the preview.

Showing our redesign of Twitter Moments in the way that they present information in their news card previews.

Redesigning Twitter Moments

In our redesign, the appearance of Twitter Moments feels much more like tabloid news, similar to the style of how Snapchat presents their casual news. People can browse the news more visually and get a sense for what's trending. More importantly, these news cards now show most of the original tweet and actual source of the information directly in the preview. People can see where the news came from, if it was from a verified account (with the blue check mark), number of likes attached to the tweet, timestamp and as much of the tweet that fits in the preview. When a person actually clicks on a moment, they are first shown the rest of the original tweet that was in the preview. They're able to reply to the moment, retweet it, scan through related comments that others have left or follow the tweet's author. 

With this design, people can learn more about the featured tweet and what people's thoughts are around it. A goal we had was to make it easier for people on Twitter to connect with each other and converse about the current events going on.

 Now, when people click into a Moment, they're provided a wealth of information. They can connect with the author, other users and see related news.

Now, when people click into a Moment, they're provided a wealth of information. They can connect with the author, other users and see related news.

Showcasing Our Research

For our final deliverable, we created a video to explain the research and conclusions we drew over the course of this project. We created a data visualization to present our findings in a digestible way. In the video, we show how Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter Moments compare to The New York Times in their ability to provide people with trustworthy, full-length news articles after the preview. We made sure to also tie in redesign for Twitter Moments. Check out the video we produced below:

Designing the Data Visualization

We chose to visualize the four platforms we researched as globes. Each globe is made up of two parts, an outer and inner layer. The outer layer is meant to represent the expectation that a person might have of what the article will be like based on the information shown in the preview by that specific platform. We went through each platform and examined the way that they formatted their previews. We counted up the elements provided (ex: headline, caption, image, source, date, etc) and compared those numbers against each other and also to what we might find in a traditional newspaper article preview. 

Facebook, for example, decorates their article previews in an elegant way. The headlines even appear in a serif typeface. We don't see that typeface being used anywhere else on the platform. They have done this very intentionally. The design sets high expectations even though the article might completely be clickbait material. Reddit, on the other hand, does not boast stylized previews. The emphasis is placed on the headline and source. The design is very stripped down and to the point. 

The inner core represents the quality of information delivered by each platform. How well did the platform do in meeting the expectations generated by the preview? The size of the inner globe depends on two key factors in particular. We took into consideration the amount of content provided in addition to the validity of the source. Of all the globes, Twitter Moments disappoints the most in its news delivery. The New York Times outperformed the others in actually meeting expectations. They are an accredited platform providing full-length articles with supporting media written by verified reporters.