Is Social Media Changing the “Truth?” How To Make Sure Your Information Is Reliable

The rise of social media, especially as a news source via Facebook or Twitter, has resulted in the viral spread of information. This manifests in a number of ways: humorous memes, for instance, often spread like wildfire on social media platforms. Chances are if you’ve used any social media platform, you’ve been hit by some of these. However, information doesn’t need to be true or funny to go viral  it can be a half-truth or even an outright lie.

That brings us to the question of the day.

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that human beings are prone to what’s known as “confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias occurs when people interpret and spread information that aligns with their beliefs. It doesn’t help that Facebook encourages this with its algorithms.

social-media-is-changing-truth-confirmation-bias

As an innocent example, let’s say you believe “Fantastic Beasts” was a grossly-overrated movie. Due to your confirmation bias in this case, you would be likely to share reviews and opinion pieces that align with your beliefs.

As a not-so-innocent example, let’s say you believe a politician to be morally corrupt, bordering on outright evil. In this case, your confirmation bias may lead you to believe any negative thing said about the opposition, which on social media means you’re more likely to share unsubstantiated rumors and treat them as fact.

This confirmation bias, when combined with the rapid-fire sharing nature of platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, means that falsehoods can spread like a virus in the span of mere minutes. Major world events can be skewed and misrepresented to people at large in the span of just an hour. Social media progresses at such a speed that people don’t tend to perform their own research on whatever tasty morsels of information they happen to find; if it suits their bias, they’re likely to share it.

social-media-is-changing-truth-bandwagoning

When this happens on a large enough scale, something called the “bandwagon effect” comes into play. This is another psychological term, and it is used to describe when people’s ideals, beliefs and actions are shaped by what they see in the masses. If all of your friends and family are sharing this story, it must be true, right?

The combination of these factors (the speed at which social media spreads information, the psychology of confirmation bias and the strength of the bandwagon effect) means that fake news has just as much a platform, if not more so, than real reporting. This, combined with growing distrust for major media outlets and a growing paranoia around topics like government surveillance, means that social media has changed the “truth”.

Or, at least, what people perceive as the truth.

First of all, remember the importance of research. A Google search is always a few keystrokes away. Don’t just click the first link and listen to what it says alone; check multiple links, follow sources to their root. Don’t let yourself be caught in supposedly-genuine news stories that actually originate from random Twitter posts. Even major news outlets fall for those on occasion.

If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If something is so terrible you don’t want it to be true, chances are it might not be. In either case, research the information you’re presented with, whether it agrees with your pre-existing biases or not.

Two great tools  you can use for fact-checking are Politifact and Snopes. Both of these sites operate as politically neutral as possible, while also providing  a multitude of sources and a list of all leads used to come to their conclusions. If you find their research suspicious, you’re more than welcome to dive into their sources and do some research of your own.

Just be wary of random “news” sites, and don’t trust everything you read on the Internet at first glance. Given the right practices, you’ll never be fooled by fake news – you just need to make sure that you’re doing the research necessary to avoid it. Social media may be skewing your perspective, but that doesn’t mean you need to be fooled.

9 comments

  1. “Is Social Media Changing the “Truth”?”
    The short answer is ‘NO’.
    Social media, or more precisely the Internet, has given every Tom, Dick, Jose, Abdul and Jane a forum to disseminate whatever beliefs they may hold near and dear. Anybody with a computer can start a blog or a Twitter feed and within a short period of time have millions of like-minded followers. Anybody with a smartphone, which is most of us, can be a ‘journalist’. Today, anybody and everybody can and does put a spin on facts.

    “How To Make Sure Your Information Is Reliable”
    Define ‘reliable’. For most of us, ‘reliable information’ means one that reinforces our beliefs, biases, philosophy. If it does not, it is ‘unreliable’ or ‘fake’.

    Used to be that The Media had a code of ethics and those working in the media adhered to it, more or less. There is no code of ethics on social media. In fact, the more embellished or outrageous the story is, the more widely and quicker it is spread.

    “Both of these sites operate as politically neutral as possible”
    The key phrase is ‘as neutral as possible.’ As long as humans are involved, the WILL introduce their biases into the news, either by commission or omission.

    It is interesting that the rash of articles about ‘fake news’ did not start until Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton for the position of POTUS. Before then nobody really worried about the veracity of news stories, or any stories for that matter. We all read/heard the news, discarded what we disagreed with and move on with our lives. Now everybody is up in arms about ‘fake news.’

    • Dragonmouth, you say, “Is Social Media Changing the “Truth”?” The short answer is ‘NO’. Yet you spend the next five paragraphs of your reply contradicting your answer to the question.
      Use a little mouthwash and wake up man, you should have just convinced yourself that social media is nothing more than a “echo chamber” of fake news. It may have it origins based on facts but it has been stretched so far from the original story that it seldom bares any semblance at all to the facts.

      • You’re quite right, Robin. I was trying to make a distinction which, at best, is tenuous and that is the distinction between the social media companies (FB, Twitter, MySpace) and their users. I was thinking more along the lines of traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers) where the users (readers) have very little chance of shaping the content with their input.

  2. The only thing I find myself agreeing with in Dragonmouth’s comments is his name. The rest of what is written is grossly exaggerated, incorrect, and ill-defined.

    • “The rest of what is written is grossly exaggerated, incorrect, and ill-defined.”
      Thank you for that very precise critique. Feel free to enumerate the exaggerations, ill definitions and/or wrong facts.

  3. Congratulations for contributing to the problem. Your gross over-generalization about when people started being concerned about “fake news” demonstrates that you are as gullible as those you so characterize.

    I was engaging in the fight against “fake news” during most of the Obama administration here in the U.S. Plenty of “fake news” circulated among conservatives, claiming all kinds of horrors about then-President Obama. I myself am more conservative than most, and I was disgusted by the lies being spread so freely. A more fundamental principle which ought to be cherished no matter where you are on the political spectrum is the ancient command “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”. Suffice it to say that some people, though admittedly not bias-free, attempt to answer to the “Higher Authority”.

    • You have just proven my point that ‘fake news’ is the news that we disagree with.

      There is a big difference between saying that ‘ARTICLES about fake news started after the Trump election’ and ‘fake news started WITH the Trump election.’ If you re-read that paragraph objectively, you will see that I said the former, not the latter.

      “I was engaging in the fight against “fake news” during most of the Obama administration ”
      If you want to be strict about it, humans have been feeding ‘fake news’ or ‘misinformation’ to each other, for whatever reason, since man developed, first, speech and then, writing.

      “A more fundamental principle which ought to be cherished no matter where you are on the political spectrum is the ancient command “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”.”
      Why limit it to politics?! Let’s face it, lying, misinformation, fake news are woven into the fabric of our lives. Kids lie to their parents and vice versa. People lie to the government and vice versa. Businesses lie to each other and to the government. Countries lie to each other. Some ‘fake news’ is disseminated for noble reasons (google Operation Bodyguard). A lot is disseminated for ignoble reasons. But most of ‘fake news’, especially today, is disseminated because the disseminator is thoroughly convinced that his/her version of whatever facts is THE ONE AND ONLY TRUTH.

  4. You started off by handling this delicate topic very well. Sadly you veered off a bit with the suggestion of Google (you did not use a disclaimer). Like Twitter and Facebook, Google has engaged in the same kind of manipulation of news as these social media sites. They give voice to slanted, biased, divisive stories led by “news sources” such as CNN, The Washington Post and now, sadly… The New York Times, among many others. At the same time, they bury stories deep in searches that don’t fit their agenda.

    Google’s own news feed blocks out, entirely, any conservative voices. They use to have sliders built into their news site that allowed the user to select news sources. It’s been removed and all we see are the same gang of leftist thugs, masquerading as “reputable” news sources, pushing half-truths and stories that have not been fact-checked.

    These companies insist on narratives to push agendas, blackout stories, push racist/sexism half-truths to manipulate their readers and often run stories that are clearly rumors to continue fear-mongering.

    The biggest story here isn’t fake news from random, no-name posters and little known outfits. It is the complete meltdown of our Main Stream Media. They have become a national disgrace and an embarrassment to the very ideals of actually covering news and breaking stories. Social media’s support for these tactics, their embrace for people like George Soros, their continued manipulation of news sources… is the real story here.

  5. As the previous comments show, there is no “Truth” – just interpretations and representations of evidence, While social media has given a voice to anyone with a phone, even those trying to be objective only know what they see and hear. Eyewitness accounts are notoriously inconsistent – given the “echo chamber” nature of social media and the short attention span of both posters and readers, I think most social media is a poor source for meaningful news. How many times does a “citizen reporter” issue a retraction if it turns out they were mistaken? How many people pay attention to the retraction? Unfortunately, I don’t see social media supporting deliberate consumption of news. For full disclosure, I don’t follow social media closely for these very reasons, so I am exhibiting a form of confirmation bias by that very non-action!

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