You vs. Social Media vs. The News

You vs. Social Media vs. The News

In 2019, Pew Research found that 55% of American adults said they get their news from social media either “often” or “sometimes,” which is an 8% rise over the previous year. The trend is scarry as hell as social media has no real filter for any given post being a real news organization or just some random site Bob put up last week with made up facts & figures. With the 2020 election, however, we have some toes put in the water by Twitter in attaching labels to and censoring certain tweets it believes are mis-informative. So we have to decide:

 Is this censorship or is it the same thing as any given news organization deciding not to run with a story because its non-verifiable.

One of the internet’s greatest strength is that we can all have a voice. Publishing is no longer limited to newspaper, TV, and radio where only experts in production of the media can get the word out.  Now, everybody is the expert, including, usually, each and every one of you reading this who answer and retort a political post on social media. The only question with respect to authority is whether or not you know the actual source from TV, radio, or somewhere else. On top of that, what you are reading may not be written by people at all but rather bots.

For example, last May, researchers at Carnegie Melon University studied more than 200 million tweets about the current virus. Of the top 50 most influential retweeters, 82% of them were bots. Some 62% of the top 1,000 retweeters were bots as well.

With such an profound volume and intensity of fantasy nonsense run amuck on the internet, our job is to build up our media literacy—which is our ability to critically analyze the media we consume for bias and accuracy and quite frankly, ignore, if not attack, the fake news.

Twitter

The strongest weapon Twitter has to prevent the spread of political misinformation is the removal of tweets and the restriction of accounts, but the platform utilizes these sparingly, likely to avoid being accused of censorship.

Youtube

The video-sharing giant announced earlier this year some updates to how it was preparing for the election, saying it would remove election-related content that violated its Community Guidelines.

“These policies prohibit hate speech, harassment, and deceptive practices, including content that aims to mislead people about voting or videos that are technically manipulated or doctored in a way that misleads users (beyond clips taken out of context) and may pose a serious risk of egregious harm,” the company said.

Similar to other platforms, YouTube also pledged to remove content encouraging users to interfere with the democratic process, citing an example as content “telling viewers to create long voting lines with the purpose of making it harder for others to vote.”  This type of policing portratys itself as pretty pro-active, I think it’s a good start.

Facebook

In the years since 2016, Facebook’s core efforts to maintain election integrity have fallen into three major categories: Taking down inauthentic accounts and networks, tightening policies on content moderation, and unveiling an ad database with the goal of increased transparency.

Facebook also launched an Elections Operations Center in 2018, a team that it says will monitor potential democratic process abuses on the network in real-time. The company said that so far it has removed more than 120,000 pieces of content from Facebook and Instagram in the U.S. for violating voter-interference policies it has set, and displayed warnings on more than 150 pieces of content. Moreover, the company said it removed 30 networks engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior targeting the U.S.

How Do I Protect Myself From Fake News

First off, there is “accidental” misinformation.  Many of us read things, remember half of it, and then get back online to answer somebodies post and start posting things the best way we remember after a couple of drinks. Some semi-professional sites probably do the same. Part of what allows us to have the internet in the first place is that we can make our own intelligent decisions about what we see. There is no solution for accidental misinformation, deal with it.

Next level is deliberate fake news. This is “intentionally misleading information or facts that have been manipulated to create a false narrative”. The readiest example of this is propaganda, Russian hacking, and even product promotion . In other words, disinformation can take forms both large and small. It can apply to a person, a product, or even philosophy. 

Now, let’s take a look at some habits and tactics designed to help you get a better grasp on the truth in your social media feed.

Consider The Source

Look at the main url, is it familiar?,Even if it is familiar, consider the source. Take time to examine the information you come across. Look at its source. Does that source have a track record of honesty and dealing plainly with the facts? Likewise, that source has sources too. Consider them in the same way as well.

Now, what’s the best way to go about that? For one, social media platforms are starting to embed information about publications into posts where their content is shared. For example, if a friend shares an article from The Economist, Facebook now includes a small link in the form of an “i” in a circle. Clicking on this presents information about the publication, which can give you a quick overview of its ownership, when it was founded, and so forth.

Another fact-finding trick comes by way of Michael Caufield, the Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University. He calls it: “Just Add Wikipedia.” It entails doing a search for a Wikipedia page by using the URL of an information source. For example, if you saw an article published on Vox.com, you’d simply search “Wikipedia www.vox.com.” The Wikipedia entry will give you an overview of the information source, its track record, its ownership, and if it has fired reporters or staff for false reporting. Of course, be aware that Wikipedia entries are written by public editors and contributors. These articles will only be as accurate as the source material that they are drawn from, so be sure to reference the footnotes that are cited in the entry. Reading those will let you know if the entry is informed by facts from reputable sources as well. They may open up other avenues of fact-finding as well!

Look Around

A single information source or story won’t provide a complete picture. It may only cover a topic from a certain angle or narrow focus. If I read something on CNN,  go find the same story on Fox News to see what they say.

For a list of reputable news sources, along with the reasons why they’re reputable, check out “10 Journalism Brands Where You Find Real Facts Rather Than Alternative Facts” published by Forbes and authored by an associate professor at The King’s College in New York City.

Its An Ad!

If you see text that says “sponsored by” “sponsored” ,”ad”  “About our ads”, “Advertise” they are paid for and have nothing to do with the content on the page you are viewing. Many sites have made it more and more difficult to tell the difference and if you are on a site where its hard to tell, you should probably use a different site for your news.

Don’t Click On The Ad

To take it a step further in some sites these ads, when clicked on, can take you to malicious sites that install malware or expose you to other threats. Always use browser protection. Good browser protection will either identify such links as malicious right away or prevent your browser from proceeding to the malicious site if you click on such a link.

Be Socially Responsible, You Can’t Change Their Mind On Facebook

It’s easy to go out and get sucked into a viral post or random news story you read but before you go and repost it onto your favorite social media outlet, think twice about the source and whether or not your action will spark a genuine intelligent debate, or just make people angry. Don’t let social media win.  I can recount all too many times where someone posts something to social media and people start debating and pretty much every time, after any discussion gets past three threads or so, people start getting name called and losing friends because nobodys mind is getting changed on social media.  Think twice, its usually not worth it to post anything where you are trying to change somebodies mind..

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