Navigating the Complexities of Social Media: The Rise of News Consumption and the Battle Against Misinformation
The rise of social media has fundamentally changed the way we consume news. According to a 2021 report by the Pew Research Center, about 48% of US adults say they get news from social media often or sometimes, with Facebook and Twitter being the most commonly used platforms for news and Instagram not far behind(Walker & Matsa, 2021). While some criticize social media as a source of misinformation and disinformation, it can be a valuable tool for staying informed when used responsibly and in conjunction with other sources.
One of the most significant examples of the power of social media in news dissemination came during the 2008 US presidential election when Barack Obama’s campaign used platforms like Facebook and Twitter to mobilize supporters and spread their message (Carlisle & Patton, 2013, p.883). Since then, social media has become integral to political campaigning, with candidates and parties using it to reach voters, share their positions, and fundraise.
However, as social media has grown in importance, so has the spread of misinformation and disinformation. In 2015, nearly 50% of all online traffic on high-profile social media platforms was driven by bots. These bots posted and re-posted false stories and conspiracy theories that drove them to go viral, reaching millions and potentially influencing their beliefs and actions. (Wooley et al., 2016, para. 12). This problem has been compounded by the fact that many people now get their news primarily through social media rather than traditional news sources (Walker & Matsa, 2021).
So, how can we combat the spread of lies and harmful information without becoming overly censorious? Better digital literacy and critical thinking education are essential. People must be taught how to evaluate sources, fact-check information, and recognize bias. A 2016 Stanford History Education Group study assessed students’ capacity to discern the reliability of the information that overwhelms young people’s digital devices(Wineburg et al., 2016). The study found that out of the 7,804 student responses, a significant number lacked the necessary skills to evaluate information online and could not differentiate between credible and unreliable sources.
Additionally, social media platforms have a responsibility to police their content and remove blatantly false or harmful posts. Some platforms have taken steps to combat misinformation, such as Instagram’s policy of labelling posts that contain misleading information and making false content harder to find(Meta, n.d.). Although this is a decent solution, I have seen accounts and posts not posting false articles be hit with Instagram moderation in the form of suspensions and shadow banning. Shadow banning is where the account is made harder to find on the platform. However, Twitter Inc. recently introduced a new feature called “Community Notes,” which allows community contributors to leave notes on a tweet (Twitter Inc., n.d.). If enough contributors vote on the information as helpful, it will be publicly shown on the tweet. These notes cannot be edited by anyone working at Twitter. If the account holder believes the note is incorrect, they must go through a review to have it removed. This feature has proven helpful for individuals like me who rely on social media platforms for news. However, despite this development, there is still much work to be done to tackle the issue of misinformation and disinformation on social media.
Despite these challenges, social media can still be a valuable news source when used responsibly. For example, I follow independent news sources on Instagram, such as @atlas.news3 and @realnewsnobullshit. These accounts are run purely by donations and are not beholden to any particular agenda or corporate interest. I have found their reporting to be balanced and unbiased, and I appreciate their commitment to transparency and factual accuracy.
Of course, my experience is just one example, and it is essential to recognize that not all social media news sources are created equal. That is why individuals must evaluate sources critically and use multiple sources to get a complete picture. According to the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020, many people use social media and traditional media sources for news, and those who rely on traditional media sources are generally more knowledgeable about the topics. However, those who rely on social media are not consistently misinformed (Newman et al., 2020, p. 14).
In conclusion, social media can be a valuable news source when used responsibly and with other sources. While the spread of misinformation and disinformation is a genuine concern, it is possible to combat it through better digital literacy, critical thinking education, and responsible content curation by social media platforms. By staying informed and vigilant, we can navigate the complexities of social media and make informed decisions about the information we consume.
Atlas News (@atlas.news3) • Instagram photos and videos. (n.d.). Instagram. Retrieved March 9, 2023, from https://www.instagram.com/atlas.news3/?hl=en
Carlisle, J. E., & Patton, R. C. (2013). Is Social Media Changing How We Understand Political Engagement? An Analysis of Facebook and the 2008 Presidential Election. Political Research Quarterly, 66(4), 883-895. Sage Journals. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1177/1065912913482758
Meta. (n.d.). How is Instagram addressing false information? Instagram Help Center. Retrieved March 9, 2023, from https://help.instagram.com/2109682462659451
Newman, N., Fletcher, R., Schulz, A., Andi, S., & Nielsen, R. K. (2020). SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE CRISIS. Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2020. https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/sites/default/files/2020-06/DNR_2020_FINAL.pdf
Real News, Not Bullshit (@realnewsnobullshit) • Instagram photos and videos. (n.d.). Instagram. Retrieved March 9, 2023, from https://www.instagram.com/realnewsnobullshit/
Twitter Inc. (n.d.). About Community Notes on Twitter | Twitter Help. Twitter Help Center. Retrieved March 9, 2023, from https://help.twitter.com/en/using-twitter/community-notes
Walker, M., & Matsa, K. E. (2021, September 20). News Consumption Across Social Media in 2021. Pew Research Center. Retrieved March 9, 2023, from https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/2021/09/20/news-consumption-across-social-media-in-2021/
Wineburg, S., McGrew, S., Breakstone, J., & Ortega, T. (2016). Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning. Stanford Digital Repository. http://purl.stanford.edu/fv751yt5934.
Wooley, C, S., Howard, & N, P. (2016, 10 12). Political Communication, Computational Propaganda, and Autonomous Agents: Introduction. International journal of communication, 10. https://par.nsf.gov/servlets/purl/10021331