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Social Media: Not Reliable for News

Updated: Jan 22

...part of our ongoing Critical Thinking vs. Misinformation series.

A picture of Abraham Lincoln with a fake quote from him saying, "Don't believe everything you read on the Internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it."

Social media is a great way to stay connected with friends, family and business connections, but it's not always the most reliable source of news. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Social media is designed to keep you engaged, not informed Algorithms are used to show you content that you're likely to like and share, which can lead to an echo chamber where you're only exposed to information that confirms your existing beliefs.

  • Social media is full of misinformation and disinformation Anyone can create and share content on social media, including false or misleading information. This is especially problematic during times of conflict or crisis, when people are more likely to believe information that confirms their fears.

  • Social media platforms are slow to fact-check and remove false information Even when social media platforms do flag content as misleading, it can take days or even weeks for them to remove it. This gives false information plenty of time to spread and be believed.

Some examples of social media misinformation

  • Fabricated videos and images regarding the current Hamas-Israeli war A number of videos and images have been circulated on social media that have been falsely attributed to the conflict. For example, one video that went viral on X-Twitter showed a group of Palestinian children being shot by Israeli soldiers. However, the video was actually filmed in 2018 during a protest in Yemen and didn’t involve Israel. This isn't to say the conflict isn't tragic; it is. People need to be critically objective to understand truth versus fabricated news meant to feed on people's emotions.

  • False claims about COVID-19 vaccines Some people have claimed that the vaccines are dangerous, cause infertility, and don't work. These claims have been debunked by scientists and public health experts, but they continue to spread and cause harm to public health.

  • Misinformation about the 2020 US presidential election Some people have claimed that the election was stolen. These claims have been rejected by courts and election officials, but they continue to be continuously without credible evidence or proof which seeds distrust in american democracy.

When seeking reliable news, it's important for people to self-check their own biases and desires for news that furthers their own agenda and beliefs. It may be uncomfortable, but by being open to new ideas and accessing trusted new sources, people may develop new beliefs and a better understanding of others.

Trusted news sources and a few tips:

  • Look for news organizations that have a good reputation This means organizations that have been around for a while and have a track record of accuracy and fairness.

  • Be wary of news organizations that have a clear political bias It's important to be able to evaluate news stories critically and to be aware of the potential for bias.

  • Check the source of the information If you see a news story on social media, click the link to see where it's from. If you're not familiar with the news organization, do some research to see if it's credible.

These links may help vet news sources:

  • AllSides: Rates media bias and encourages readers to consume news from a variety of sources to get a balanced view.

  • Media Bias Fact Check: Rates news sources based on their level and direction of bias, as well as their reliability. They also identify questionable and conspiracy sources.

  • Ad Fontes Media: Uses a variety of factors to map news sources on a political spectrum, including their tone, word choice, and sources. They also provide "media bias reviews" of individual news sources.

  • NewsGuard: Browser extension that rates news sources based on their transparency, accountability, and journalistic standards. They also provide labels for news sources that are biased or publish false information.

  • Nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that monitors the factual accuracy of what is said on TV, in print, and online. They also fact-check claims made by politicians and other public figures.

Here are some trusted news sources; there are others:

  • Reuters (center)

  • BBC (center)

  • New York Post (leans right)

  • Associated Press (leans left)

  • The New York Times (leans left)

  • The Washington Post (leans left)

  • The Guardian (leans left)

  • NPR (leans left)

  • PBS NewsHour (leans left)

Note: Only a few trusted news sources that lean right. Most right news has a full right bias.

It's also important to be aware of your own biases and to be critical of the information you consume, regardless of the source. If you see something that seems suspicious, do your own research to verify it before believing it.

  • Consume news from a variety of sources. This will help you to get a more balanced perspective on the news and avoid being swayed by the bias of any one source.

  • Be critical of the news you consume. Don't just accept everything you read or hear at face value. Ask yourself questions about the source of the information, the author's credentials, and the evidence they provide to support their claims.

  • Be skeptical of headlines. Some headlines are designed to be attention-grabbing and may not accurately reflect the content of the article.

  • Be aware of your own biases. We all have biases, and it's important to be aware of them so that we can avoid letting them cloud our judgment.

  • Read the entire article before sharing it. Don't just share a post based on the headline. Make sure to read the entire article to get the full context.

  • Fact-check information before sharing it. Don't just share news articles or social media posts without first checking to see if the information is accurate.

  • Be wary of accounts that you don't recognize. If you see a post from an account that you've never seen before, do some research to see if they are a credible source.

  • Check the source of the information. If you see a post that claims to be from a news organization, click the link to see where it's from. If you're not familiar with the news organization, do some research to see if it's credible.

  • If you see misinformation on social media, you can report it to the platform. Many social media platforms have policies against spreading misinformation, and they may take action against accounts that violate these policies.

The bottom line is that social media shouldn’t be used as a primary news source. There are much better choices available to keep people educated, informed and more open to building genuine relationships with others having differing opinions.

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