Journos, educators should lead social media change

Fake news is a problem, but there might be a solution most haven’t considered.

Amanda Bright, writing for MediaShift, suggests journalists and journalism educators need to lead the charge in combatting fake news by teaching people how to be savvy news consumers. Bright, who teaches at Eastern Illinois University, said her students “expressed disgust with article sharing and retweeting on social media. They accurately noted that many people, including their friends and family, advocate for an issue or idea by reposting a piece of ‘journalistic’ writing – without ever reading it or understanding its credibility themselves.”

If the students can see the problem, professionals should be able to as well. Bright calls for a “grassroots” effort by journalists and journalism educators to change how news is shared:

When we share articles or retweet, let’s include a short explanation of WHO it is from and WHY it is worth sharing, which will necessitate our own research and reflection. It’s too easy to pass on a headline to our unwitting audience without purpose or to become just another link in a very long chain that is disseminating misinformation.

Facebook has been at the forefront of the fake news scandal, with some suggesting the social media giant’s lackadaisical attitude toward click-bait articles and other methods of misinformation tipped the scales in President Donald J. Trump’s favor. Though the company has been hesitant to call itself a media company as CEO Mark Zuckerberg published an essay saying as much, the company has walked such comments back a bit. According to TechCrunch, Zuckerberg said of Facebook, “It’s not a traditional media company. You know, we build technology and we feel responsible for how it’s used.”

Many critics would applaud such a statement because the social media juggernaut clearly has influence as great, if not more so, than even the largest newspaper. Furthermore, it’s algorithms of how news or personal updates appear on your timeline clearly exercise some level of editorial control.

What’s more, according to a New York Times article, Facebook announced it is taking steps to curb the proliferation of fake news on its site. This would appear to be a positive step for the company. If the initiative works, it should reduce the criticism and scrutiny the social network has been experiencing. However, as the Times article pointed out, Facebook isn’t the only outlet for the spreading of fake news. Twitter and Google should also shoulder some of the blame.

It seems unlikely these three big names in the online world will work in tandem to make a change, but, even if they do, it wouldn’t completely solve the problem. The fake news will still exist online, and someone will find it and share it on social media.

The users are the ultimate conveyors of fake news, and it is within them that the solution lies.

As an educator, I need to do my part. I need to pick up the mantle and start emphasizing how my students can spot fake news. I truly believe it isn’t difficult to do, but it does require one to be observant and pay attention to the details. Just because a url looks reputable, you should always dig a little deeper and check the source yourself. Don’t idly swallow whatever gruel you’re feed. As the old journalism mantra goes, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” Never settle for an answer. Always strive for more information and be your own best advocate. If something looks suspicious, don’t retweet it or share it. Do some research. And when a friend or “online friend” pushes misinformation, even if it is done unintentionally, call attention to it. Don’t sit by and let fake news become everyone’s news.

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