The Danger of Social Media

November 9, 2020

Social Media and Misinformation

Social media has over a large portion of people’s lives over the years. The wave of social influence has brought many benefits to the minuscule tasks of everyday life. It is now easier than ever to connect with friends and family across the world. And the sharing of ideas and creativity is beyond what people ever imagined. However, in light of all the advantages that come with this social influence comes a lot of danger. For instance, disinformation and misinformation cause substantial confusion and uncertainty. The rise of social media has also started to make the old forms of traditional media obsolete. Now anyone can have an influence and an audience through these online social tools.

Social media now has more influence than traditional TV on the younger generations. Teenagers spend considerably more time online than reading newspapers or watching news stations. This has caused traditional media to try and build a platform for themselves through social media. The issue here is that they are now competing with everyday people to get clicks. This means that they are more desperate for attention. Information has never been able to be published this fast, which means that people must take extra precautions to fact check what they read. 

People are being misled left and right as stories get published and circulated across social platforms. Just as easy as word of the newest iPhone gets out, false reports of crimes and events can spread rapidly. “We’ve seen the dangers of disinformation, or what I would call partial information, rise in 2020. With COVID, social injustice, defunding police and the political elections … in my lifetime I have never before seen such a disaster in the news media” said Koeckeritz. The overtaking of social media has been frightening to watch in many ways. Most of which is due to the multitude of misinformation constantly scattered across social sites.

Social Media as a News Source

When a group of young people were asked about where they get their news in a 2020 poll, over 82% of people stated that their primary news source is social media. 64% of people said that they had personally seen examples of stories gain tracking that they knew to be false. The issue is that news on social media spreads too fast to be fact-checked all of the time. This causes the popularity of stories not to be based on accuracy, but on how provocative or interesting the story is. 

People want their news fast and these social influencers want the first scoop on every story. This causes people to post and react before they know all the facts. One example of this took place in 2018 when The Washington Post, and many other news publications, reported a story about Justin Bieber eating a burrito the incorrect way. People were very disgruntled at the method Bieber was using and were very adamant at showing their distaste. The only evidence they had was a photo. Eventually, it was found out that the photo didn’t depict Bieber but a Bieber look-alike who was eating the burrito.

Lots of judgment was cast at Bieber over a photo that wasn’t even of him. The rate at which stories blow up is so dangerous especially because of the limited information. Social media posts commonly don’t share all the possible perspectives. It is almost impossible to find truly unbiased sources of news these days. People are better off trying to compare news sources that are known to be biased to opposite ends.  

When someone posts on social media about a story or something they saw, they are almost always telling their story from their specific viewpoint and bias. Everybody has their own life story and their own perspective lens that they see the world through. Consequently, when someone posts their opinion on social media it is usually coming from their perspective lens. “Social media captures a moment in time and often depicts situations out of context or through only the point of view of the person who is posting,” remarked Koeckeritz. “It’s fast and it’s easy. We carry our phones with us and get posts pushed to us constantly. Plus, the traditional news outlets have become so biased that they have lost trust – especially for younger generations.” 

Biased Information

Only having one perspective for a post on social media can be dangerous to the understanding of the story. One student commented in the poll that they felt misled by the information spread about the story of Breonna Taylor. “Everyone said they went to her house and just shot her for no reason and that she was completely innocent. However, later we find out that she was very much involved in her boyfriend’s business, and that she got caught in the crossfire between the police and her boyfriend; therefore, she got shot and died in a hallway, not lying in her bed,” said the student. 

There were many reports coming out that the police busted into her house without a warrant, but this is not true. The police went into her house under a “no-knock” warrant. This type of warrant has now been banned in Louisville because of her death. This story has a lot of differing opinions and all in all, is a tragic event that took place. However, what is highlighted here is the way the people will omit information in order to enforce their bias. It is crucial to make sure to discourage that type of news reporting. No matter one’s opinion on the matter, everyone should have access to all the facts of a situation so that they can come to a full understanding.

Biased points of view will always force a story to lean a certain direction. Completely unbiased news reporting is almost impossible. Traditional news publications are overtly influenced by the biases of those who run and fund them. “The overall culture of news has degraded over the past two decades. This is partially due to the rise of social media, but more so due to the financial powers that impose their beliefs through their newspapers and television news programs,” said Koeckeritz. “Everyone is impacted. Older generations because they still trust their traditional news station of choice to tell the entire truth. Younger generations because they like to follow people, and trust their opinions and viewpoints as news. I’m not sure how this will be reconciled, but for now its creating a high level of distrust and spread of disinformation.” After hearing all of this it can feel like no publication is trustworthy.

Times can be frightening with everything going on in the media. And with COVID-19 there has been a surge of misinformation and disinformation. Social feeds have been filled with differing opinions on whether masks work or if businesses should be closed. The 2020 presidential election has also weighed heavily recently on the news feeds of all Americans. 

People are so desperate to get their party elected that they resort to reporting stories to tarnish their opposition, regardless of if the information is entirely trustworthy. These sorts of issues are where we need to research the context and factual backing of these opinions. Sadly, news publications require the readers to do their own digging to uncover the whole truth. People can no longer carelessly trust in traditional news sources. If people want a better world than they have to make it themselves.

How to Fight Misinformation

There are people out there fighting disinformation. With all of the misinformed hastily written stories out there, people are taking the time to fact check and get all of the perspectives on these stories. It is a good rule of thumb to compare and contrast news publications that tend to have opposing biases. Multiple points of view will always benefit people to a broader understanding no matter what topic is being discussed. But be wary not to treat conspiracy theorists with the same attention as well as researched publications. It is always necessary to look into and fact check news sources. 

People often don’t do their research on news sources and stories they are reading and listening to. It is extremely dangerous to listen to and act on things before looking for the context and background of the story as traditional journalism values have degraded with this new wave of fast news. So it is worth seeking out publications that can be trusted to do their due diligence to get the story right. Research specific news sources and their track record to confirm their reliability.

Everyone must do their part to help solve the issues of disinformation and misinformation. Social media’s influence has caused people to latch on to misinformed ideas and stories but that doesn’t have to continue. Solid fact-checking can aid in ridding these social sites of their false reports and create a better culture of reliable information. With people fact-checking news publications hopefully, they will start to be more careful themselves. And hopefully soon, there won’t be a need for so much distrust of what is in the news.

Rampant spread of misinformation is a prominent danger plaguing social media