Analysis: The Distrust of Social Media
Among the few places of bipartisan convergence of thought in the modern era of heavily polarized politics, the shared distrust of social media as a reliable and credible source of news is one of the most important.
According to a Pew Research Center poll, between about 40 to 60 percent of Americans are concerned about the quality of political news they receive from sources like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. There is, however, a very vague line between the beneficial ease of information and the lack of proper research methods in verifying information within social media, one which, when reconciled, can improve the use of social media news effectively.
Few would say that there is any quicker and easier way of receiving news than through social media, which often displays only key headlines and includes the commentary of the person posting somewhere nearby. This is, perhaps, the best type one could find on social media: it requires the person to look up credible sources in order to read more, presenting merely the topic itself, as well as highlight the view of whatever political affiliation the poster belongs to (giving one a general sense of where their affiliation stands).
Between this, and pure fake news (in its literal sense) we find satire. This generally comes indirectly, however, in which posts will contain news which is not true but is described for purposes of humor and, at least sometimes, can be discerned from the truth. These become more dangerous when there is no obvious indicator that the news is false, and one takes it as true, but one should find this to be false very early in further research.
There are also literal fake news sites, such as The Onion or The Babylon Bee, which exist purely in satire and are recognized by most to be immediately for this end and generally are not confused for real news. They are, additionally, often headlined in absurd ways, which indicate this humorous intent. Take, for example, one of the latest Babylon Bee articles claiming Bernie Sanders was fired for his own campaign for refusing to work.
On the worse end of social media news, we have pure fabrication. A supermajority of Americans receive their news online but about half of all Americans use social media as their primary source of news.
With many Americans experiencing trouble discerning fake from real news, and the large majority of politically apathetic citizens who lack the motivation to further investigate, the spread of misinformation is rampant. This type of news is the most dangerous, as it contains little to no fact and, if there is any, it is often warped for political purposes and is in an extremely biased format.
This, unfortunately, seems to be the most common in the experience of many Americans, especially on sites that require large user participation and commentary like Twitter. But does this deem social media as a bad source for news?
Like all things, the practice of moderation is a good habit to practice in social media. We should take what we read with a grain of salt and employ further methods to determine the quality of the news (both in validity and unbiasedness). There are, if we employ these strategies, many benefits to social media news. It is quicker and easier to find and better organized for search (due to mass posting, hashtags, etc) than most news sites. It allows users to bypass headlines that don’t interest them and read those that do. It also can highlight news that major outlets are unwilling to share (either due to time, importance, or superficial loyalties).
Most importantly, it connects the average citizen, regardless of their education level or political involvement, to news, something that few major news outlets can successfully do.
So long as we employ proper strategies in analyzing the news, social media can be a very helpful tool for the public. These strategies could include verifying information (such as through credible news sites), assessing potential bias of the poster, reading further professional news covering both sides of the issue and/or the differences in perception based on political affiliation, or even, often the easiest, reading the comments to look for any presence of claims challenging the post’s validity (although, these should be taken lightly and verified as well should they be present).
Like all things, moderation is our friend, but with the proper strategies employed social media can be to news a conversational extension and a more modernly effective tool to spread the news.