The media have been around for a long time and for one purpose: to inform the public.
Print (hello!), TV, and the web (hello, again!) are all there for our consumption and to tell us what’s going on or tickle our brains to make that news more enjoyable.
Internet has changed many things in our lives. We can chat with friends, find new friends, and play addictive games until it feels like our eyeballs might drop out. But the Internet hasn’t changed anything like it has changed the media.
With TV, print, and many online news sites, a story usually has to go through a few hands before you can see it. There is pitching a story to a team, filming or writing a story, there are editors, etc. With social media, the same standards don’t always apply.
That being said and given the current state of events in Ukraine, the shifting gears of Canadian political parties and everything else, I would like to talk to you about social media literacy.
Many of us spend hours a day scrolling through Facebook or Twitter. Do you know this quote from Nietzsche: “If you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks at you”? That’s kind of how your social media works. If you click on an article that talks about vaccines or war or a certain political party and even some sort of recipe, your social media follows it through the use of algorithms (essentially a computer mathematically sorting out your interests ). The next time you scroll, you may be offered a similar item. If you click on what is suggested, the algorithm learns again what you click on.
Does that mean you shouldn’t click on articles?
Absolutely not! But know that you can quickly be surrounded by a hot topic or an opinion. Your social media can bombard you with articles and suggested pages or other users to follow. With this, you can reach the point where it seems like certain topics are the only thing going on in the world. It can be very confusing when talking with other people who don’t have the same algorithms as you. Know that it can go both ways.
It can also be confusing to know who to believe or trust on social media. Just because a Facebook group, YouTube video, or Twitter account has a lot of followers or viewers doesn’t prove its legitimacy or accuracy. The original poster may be misinformed. Sometimes, unfortunately, they can deliberately spread misinformation. The spread of misinformation has many motivations. It’s usually to discredit another source of information, sway public opinions, or fit a group’s narrative for more reasons than my word limit allows.
What can you do to better master social media?
Always check the date. Stories with many developments can be shared on your social networks and it is important to check the date. What may have been news two weeks or even days ago may not be relevant today and older news may leave you misinformed.
If you read or see someone quoted and it doesn’t look right to you, I suggest you type the quote and name into Google. It may be part of a quote that you haven’t seen in full. There may be some context or explanation that was not provided with the quote you read.
It’s also a good idea to find two or three sources of information that you trust on social media. If you see or watch something that doesn’t seem right, try to find another source covering the same story. The perspective and access to certain information can really change the narrative.
For larger stories, a good way to avoid misinformation and approach stories critically is to run them through Reuters Fact Check at https://www.Reuters.com/fact-check. They have a feed of current headlines where they find (in)accuracies as well as a search tool to find other stories.
Good reading (critical, attentive and reasonable)!