Lately I’ve been extremely troubled about the amount of fake news scrolling across social media, as well as my inability to spot so much of it at first glance. I know all the steps to take to verify if a source is credible or not. I know the red flags of a fake story, and yet, how many times do I fall prey to the trash that I’m reading?
More importantly, if I, as an adult of 50+ years, have trouble, how do we expect our teens who are spending so much more time on social media than we are to recognize what is real and what is fake? As Lee Atwater said, “perception is reality.” And if everything coming across my feed is basically the same, pretty soon, that becomes my reality…whether it is true or not. This has never been more evident than now.
Last year, Netflix released a documentary, The Social Dilemma, that highlights how platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and Google keep users engaged. One of the big takeaways from the documentary is the issue of fake news. In the program, it explains how an MIT study found that fake news travels six times faster on Twitter than news that is accurate and true. That’s an incredible statistic! How are we supposed to differentiate fact from fiction when it is spreading so quickly?
Well, here are a few ideas. First and foremost, check your source. Do a search on the author of the article you are reading. What makes the author of this article an expert on the topic? Is the information backed by evidence? Next, follow people who don’t look and think like you. Does everyone you see as you scroll through your social media accounts have the same opinion as you? Be sure you read posts that challenge your way of thinking. And when you find yourself going down the rabbit hole, reach out and talk to someone.
I have a family member that would get so worked up and upset because she was reading information on social media sites that all said the same thing. The problem was, all the information was coming from her friends who never stopped to fact check anything. None of them ever tried to look at an opposing point of view in order to develop their own way of thinking. So, further down the rabbit hole she fell. Had she stopped and stepped away or set boundaries to surround herself with people who could have healthy discussions on the topic, perhaps she would not have become so worked up over what she’d read.
As we think about putting these practices into place in our own lives, we need to be modeling this to our children. We need to be having conversations with them about the posts they are reading on social media, and the people who write them. The bottom line is this: social media is here to stay. It is part of our everyday lives. So we need to be sure we are doing everything we can to be smart and engage with it wisely.