Social media is a driving force in how people stay informed. More people now than ever get their news through their social media accounts than they do through a newspaper. So what happens when the information you’re consuming isn’t as trustworthy as you thought?
Seemingly benign social platforms are now battlegrounds for an array of agendas. Through social media weaponization, people are using social media to strategically sway public opinion with information that’s not always truthful. The unsettling part is that it’s actually working.
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This phenomenon was especially salient in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign cycle, where social media was used to purposefully misinform voters. Widely-shared fake news stories about Hillary Clinton, for example, were created to paint Clinton as a untrustworthy candidate.
Social media isn’t going anywhere. As digital media consumers, we must be vigilant about the news we find on social media. Although it can be difficult to know when to question credibility, try out these tips to empower yourself as a digital media user in today’s social media environment:
Question your sources and information.
We come across an array of information on social media, but it’s important to remember that not all information is trustworthy. You have to do a lot of questioning.
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First, examine the source. Is it from a reputable news organization? Second, determine if there is bias. Who are the sources? Are they from corporations or government sponsors? Are there any voices from public interest or progressive organizations? Is there diversity among these sources?
If you’re only reading news from one source, challenge yourself to follow more than one news organization on social media. It’s important to consume a repertoire of news sources to absorb different perspectives and catch discrepancies among news reporting.
It is also helpful to visit sites like PolitiFact and FactCheck.org, whose missions are to fact check statements and claims made by politicians or political organizations. If you’re ever a doubtful about a claim reported in a news article or floating around social media, do a quick check on these sites.
Use these plug-ins to help you spot fake news.
If you’re having a hard time detecting fake news by yourself, there are browser extensions that can do the job for you.
Chrome extensions like B.S. Detector helps you identify fake or satirical news sites by attaching warning labels to untrustworthy sites or news articles in your social media newsfeeds. Gmail extension LazyTruth flags emails that include political myths, urban legends or security threats, and debunks them within your email program before you even think of sharing it on social media.
Get outside of your bubble.
Thanks to Facebook’s algorithms, all you might see on your newsfeed is content that reflects your views. Although its affirming to read articles that support your views, scrolling through your newsfeed can turn into an echo chamber of similar or identical opinions. A similar pattern occurs with Google searches: When different people search the same topic, each person will get different search results based on meta data and Google algorithms.
Make sure to get outside your bubble once in while to assure that you’re diversifying your information sources. Chrome extensions like Escape Your Bubble allows you see articles on your newsfeed that differ from your own views. The New York Times’ Right and Left features news articles and opinion pieces on both the left and right, challenging readers to better understand each side.
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Social media is changing the way we consume digital media and form opinions. Although social media can be weaponized, we have the power be vigilant about the way we navigate digital content so that we can be empowered by trustworthy information.