The prevalence of social media in society is almost unquantifiable and its influence in society has no doubt altered the pattern of human interactions in unprecedented ways. While many scholars have pointed out that social media use is not without harm, other experts are of the opinion that Social media matters and has become paramount in the personal and professional lives of individuals and organizations.
Though both views are fundamentally supported with studies and experiences to guide their distinct but crucial view points, one thing that is now undebatable is the role social media plays in amplifying and intensifying the flow of mis/disinformation amongst users.
Aware of this reality, an information manager Professor Martin Potthast, who wrote a paper on “A Stylometric Inquiry into Hyperpartisan and Fake News” uncovered that “the circulation of fake news on social media poses significant challenges for organisations and brands. In fact, fake news that promotes a specific viewpoint or opinion about a product, brand, or organisation which may not be true can be deliberately designed to mislead consumers on social media.” While this assertion is scary, it signals the need for users to take total responsibility on the pattern of their social media usage.
Even more, the definition of Social media as “a group of interest-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content,” suggests the unpleasant fact that just anyone with a social media account can share and post any content of choice.
This phenomenon not only calls for an urgent precaution but also a conscious and smart use of social media by users. Thus, below are some ways to achieve this:
- Be skeptical towards personal social media accounts
Social media impersonation is not a new topic. If you’re following a personal account that continually spits out new information, it is important to be skeptical about the reliability of news being shared as it’s important to ask questions and do some research. Social media platform algorithms are designed for optimized user retention and engagement, and are not looking for misinformation or disinformation; that is your job to do. So ask a few questions that can help you figure out what exactly is happening. Raise questions such as:
Does the account that shared the post have emotional or professional stakes in these claims?
What is the content asking you to focus on?
Is this information reasonable?
Is it reputable, or does it cite reputable sources?
Why is it valuable to the account that shared it?
- Think before you post, repost or re-share
Fake news shared on social media is powerless if it’s not forwarded or amplified by users. In most cases, Misinformation and Disinformation enjoy prominence on social media because users rarely take time to think about the content or even the implications of their actions.
According to Jang and Kim in their efforts to understand the nature of Misinformation on social media: “the perceptions and behaviours underlying the sharing of fake news are not clear. In fact, little is known about the motives for sharing disinformation on social media platforms, users simply keep sharing.” Don’t be among users who according to Jang and Jim “just keep sharing”; think before you share. What is the implication of my actions? Why am I sharing this information in the first place? What is the impact of the information? Is it proven to be true?
- Don’t rely on Social media as primary source of information
Depending on social media as a primary source of information can be hazardous. So follow a diversity of people, news sites and perspectives to get reliable information. Relying upon a small number of like-minded news sources, especially on social media groups may limit the range of material available to you and increase your odds of falling victim to hoaxes or false rumors. This method is not entirely fool-proof, but it increases the odds of hearing well-balanced and diverse viewpoints.
- Go beyond the headline: Don’t share without reading the whole content
In the online world, readers and viewers on social media should be skeptical about news sources shared on social media. In the bid to promote clicks, many online outlets resort to misleading or sensationalized headlines that will bait social media users into clicking and forwarding the link without properly reading the content.
The attention of users is hooked by the use of provocative or attention-grabbing headlines, even if that news is deceptive or inconclusive. Thus, keep your guard up and understand that not everything you read is accurate as many digital sites specialize in false news. Even more crucially important is the fact that learning how to judge news sites and protect oneself from inaccurate information is a top priority in the digital age. So go beyond the headlines, read the content before you share.
The spread of Mis/Disinformation on social media can be unavoidable but you can help minimize the spread by simply thinking critically before sharing any information you come across. Maintain a healthy level of curiosity for what you read on your feed, understand how social media platforms curate what you see, and use investigative practices often. Social media is a powerful tool, for both businesses and individuals, when approached with appropriate intent and consideration. So when you next use social media, put in mind that you also have a role to play.
The researcher produced this media literacy article per the Dubawa 2021 Kwame KariKari Fellowship partnership with Crest FM to facilitate the ethos of “truth” in journalism and enhance media literacy in the country.