While many of us have been annoyed with the term “fake news” being thrown around so carelessly, we should take it seriously to a certain degree. It should be used as a cautionary term when we see news stories or pieces of information that either appear suspicious or have been produced by suspicious sources.
Members of social media companies like Facebook and Twitter were questioned by the Senate and House intelligence committees regarding Russia’s use of the social media outlets to spread misinformation leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
New York Times recently that discussed the vast expansion of misinformation spread by the Russians through social media. One pro-Confederate ad, created in October 2016 by a fictional Facebook group, was estimated to have received 40,000 clicks. The article also revealed that 126 million American citizens were reportedly exposed to Russian created content and misinformation on Facebook.
While it is alarming that so many Americans were exposed to this content, one would likely think that most people would have enough common sense to not completely trust social media — especially not for the coverage of something as significant as the election of the country’s next president. But it is simply not the truth because social media was one of the pivotal forms of coverage during last year’s election.
On Election Day last year, Sam Sanders wrote an article for NPR discussing social media’s role in the election. Part of Sanders’ article was a list of the top 10 campaign moments that received the most mentions on Twitter from both presidential candidates. For each candidate, their lowest-ranked moment in the list had well over 600,000 mentions on Twitter. Hillary Clinton’s highest-ranked moment had over 2 million mentions, while Donald Trump’s highest-ranked moment had over 4 million mentions.
Social media is one of the primary outlets people use these days to hear the news and discuss what is going on. While credible news outlets use social media to provide the public with the truth, many people fall into the trap of believing stories posted on social media without any factual backing to it whatsoever.
CNN has over 38 million followers on Twitter while The New York Times has about 40 million followers. By comparison, pop star Katy Perry has over 100 million followers on Twitter. Even though we are counting Twitter accounts from all across the globe, 60 million more people follow a pop star than two of the most credible news outlets in the world.
If an American avoids CNN’s coverage of a major news event and instead chooses to believe a fictional report from a source on social media that is not credible, they have to hold themselves accountable. When we read a story that looks suspicious, the first thing we should do is go on credible news websites, like ABC News or the Associated Press, to see if they are reporting the same story.
There are fact-checking websites that will reveal if certain news outlets are truthful or if they even exist. There are a lot of people in this country who use every excuse they can to justify their ignorance to what is going on in America. Even though social media can spread false information, it can also provide the facts on breaking news stories faster than any outlet has ever done before.
Instead of taking advantage of the ability to efficiently receive the right information, many of us have taken it for granted. People should take it upon themselves to use critical thinking skills and do research when they see a story that seems too good to be true. Every person needs to put political biases aside and get their facts and information from credible news sources.
Russians spreading misinformation through social media was an unethical move designed to affect American votes in last year’s election. It should serve as a cautionary tale to avoid the fake news that may seem convenient from some viewpoints and instead become more knowledgeable about the reliable news outlets in our country.