The speed at which social media content is shared and spread breeds inaccuracy, misinformation, half-truths, and disinformation. This coupled with our hectic, time-compressed lives, and the desire to stay informed, up-to-date on news, information, the latest environmental or emergency crises, and issues du jour, becomes the perfect superficial social media smorgasbord riddled with skimmed headlines, shoddy journalism, a swirl of opinions, questionable facts, eye-catching memes, and misleading images and infographics.
It’s typical for articles, photos, and videos to be posted, re-shared, and circulated without much consideration for content accuracy, context, or truth. Inaccurate content, dishonest headlines, deceptive visuals, and articles distributed from untrustworthy news sources are pervasive.
It’s effortless to click, share, and re-post a story or an article found online – many do this without actually reading the article, research, or study first-hand. It’s commonplace – but not necessarily out of bad intentions or the deliberate desire to perpetuate the “fake news” trend, but out of ease, habit, and the lack of time, energy, and effort it takes to verify. It is time consuming to double-check and verify sources and yet another step to determine if it’s newsworthy, trustworthy, evidence-based, and worthy of attention.
Is there even a pause to research, investigate further, verify sources, fact-check, or dig deeper? Why wouldn’t you want to disseminate information that is correct, accurate, and truthful? Wouldn’t that be the ethical path to take?
Is there any journalistic integrity or quality standards left? Or is it all about the likes, follows, and the shares content receives – whether it is validated and vetted or not? Does anyone care about the truth and quality of what is delivered across the media inter-webs?
On an individual level, holding each other accountable to higher standards when sharing news, articles, and content on social media is a prudent move in the right direction. For mainstream news outlets and independent press agencies to be sloppy about fact-checking, inept at digging deeper, and their absence of journalistic integrity, is counterintuitive to the purpose of reporting, investigating, and disseminating news for a wider audience.
Often news agencies who generate content swiftly are time-crunched and bound to harsh deadlines. Media outlets and their content producers are unable to thoroughly vet stories or properly fact-check and validate. The erosion of trust in the media and news organizations has been negatively cascading for decades. Trust in the mainstream corporate-owned media is at an all time low. Discerning viewers and critical thinkers have little trust in the information offered and are becoming more media savvy and media literate.
When sharing a news story, a random post, an article or research study online, it’s essential to first understand where the content originated. Follow up with some foundational media literacy questions to determine its accuracy, context, and relevance. Learn to decipher, decode, and deconstruct the media and information you consume. Share from trusted sources and be apart of elevating the quality of the content we all access and appreciate.
Research, understand, and verify your sources.
- Who owns the website or media outlet where the story, article, research, etc., is published and featured?
- Who wrote the content? Why did the writer, author, reporter, or news correspondent report the story that way?
- What bias did the writer, producer, or owner bring to the story based on who they are and how their experiences have shaped their perspective?
- Who sponsored, funded, or paid for the article, story, research, or message?
- Was it independent of financial pressure to express a certain viewpoint, message, or idea?
- Is the information accurate, trustworthy, and reliable?
Compare the information to other reliable sources.
- Are you able to locate variations of the story or article you presented? Was it reported or re-published elsewhere? By a reliable source?
- Check facts from the original sources, studies, and discover the evidence for yourself.
- Does it have references, resources, or a bibliography with linked sources? If resource links are embedded within the story, are they verifiable? Can they be validated?
Examine the source, the message, and the media used.
- Is the writer or content producer using primary or secondary research, interviews, content, data, findings, etc.? If not, where does the information originate?
- Confirm citations from the author, writer, and content creator. Are they a respected authority or known in their field as an expert? If not, are they supporting their findings with those that are knowledgeable and respected in their given areas of expertise?
- What’s missing from the story, coverage, article, etc.? (Viewpoints, perspective, relevant and pertinent info, context, background, history, implications, consequences, etc.)
- What is the purpose of the content/message/story?
- How is the information scripted and used to propagate a narrative, agenda, or ideology?
- What additional information do you need to seek to clarify and understand more deeply?
- Have the images or videos been doctored, adjusted, photoshopped, or digitally manipulated or enhanced?
- Are the sound bytes and video clips real and authentic or have they been altered and edited to change the context and meaning?
- Has the video footage been photoshopped, doctored, or manipulated to corrupt the meaning and disrupt the message?
Who is fact-checking the fact-checkers?
When using fact-checking services, research their validity, and trustworthiness. Are they reliable? Are they biased in how they fact-check, report, and present their information? And if so, how? Who are they funded and sponsored by? Who are their owners and advertisers? Questions that examine the money trail are critical. Ownership influences content and it certainly affects what facts are included or omitted.
Are the fact-checking companies or organizations just an extension from the very agencies, governmental, or organizations they are hired to fact-check info and news about? Or are they truly equipped to provide a neutral fact-checking service? Do they have the capability to verify information independent from conflicts of interest?
An opportunity exists in the mis- and disinformation age.
We are at a prime opportunity to upgrade the defunct social and mass media content sharing landscape. Let’s raise the bar of quality on what is shared through re-posting and spreading content online. Be discerning in what you choose to distribute and what sources you trust. Choose wisely. Take the time and extra effort to circulate original and authentic news and quality information. It’s better to save the article or post to read later, than to rush to share it without vetting its veracity. Question its content, truth, and facts. Be proactive when you recognize false or inaccurate content. If something doesn’t adhere to the truth, kindly correct the mis- and disinformation by offering verified resources.
There is no excuse for us not to research further and dig deeper when we have instant open access to the intelligence and knowledge base of humankind right at our fingertips.
~ Melissa A. Curtin