| Social media as a news source: the pitfalls and positives
When we open our phones, we face a colorful array of social media apps: Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, the list seems to grow as time goes on. With each scroll, bold news headlines pop out on numerous posts, yet reading short sentences on Instagram to get the full story appears to defeat the purpose of detailed journalism. So, why can’t we stop scrolling?
For many, convenience is the key. Maia Macek, a rising high school senior at The American School in Japan, says, “…it’s accessible and quick so I have a general sense of what’s going on…I get the headlines and highlights but not the details.”
The condensed Instagram stories or retweeted Twitter posts take just a moment to read, and the short time translates to a shortfall of detail. This is the appeal of social media news: the lack of complicated details and lengthy sentences. But in stories where details are key, headlines can be easy to misinterpret. Formulating strong opinions based on the “headlines and highlights,” as Macek mentioned, leaves the truth behind in exchange for interpretation.
Rita Costa, a freshman at Denison University, mentioned another prominent disadvantage of consuming news through social media.
“Many people fervently spread their ideas about politics and current events through social media, so it is easy for everyone to be involved quickly,” Costa said. “I would say that the disadvantage is the fact that much of the things people post about have a high probability of being inaccurate.”
A 2019 study by the Pew Research Center found that 53 percent and 51 percent of U.S. adults viewed one-sided news and inaccurate news, respectively, to be “a very big problem when it comes to news on social media.” For many teenagers, since convenience is at the forefront of news consumption, an article’s accuracy takes a backseat as eyes blur through headlines. In today’s world, where the term “fake news” has become commonplace in many people’s vocabulary, we need to learn to be actively aware of the news we interact with. It is unlikely that teenagers will cease using social media as their main news source. Further, those whose eyes catch onto headlines while scrolling —without meaning to seek out the news — sometimes end up formulating opinions based on a few words. Thus, it is crucial to be aware of how to safely consume this medium of information.
When looking at a trending tweet, seek out the original source. Ask yourself, where did the news come from? Try not to focus on the comments and retweets, and rather, search for the source to find out if it is reliable. This process may seem to defeat the purpose of the fast-paced environment of Twitter — however, staying correctly informed and formulating opinions based on actual knowledge is more important than three extra minutes on the app. Determining if a source is reliable can be tricky, but online resources exist to help you sift and sort — for example, ABC News gathered several questions to help you decide: who shared this or created it? When was this created? What account is sharing this? Why was this shared? These questions also help for stories that aren’t trending or headlining: tweets about smaller-scale news that isn’t as well-known.
Instead of gathering news on Instagram through scattered posts, research and seek out one or two reliable news-based Instagram accounts, and follow those accounts to build a basis for your news consumption. Having a reliable source of information is crucial, and especially as we dive into a more connected and digital future, so is avoiding flash judgements.