Social media has become a major news source for younger generations in recent years. In today’s world, it is nearly impossible to open Instagram, an especially prolific form of social media, and not see an infographic reposted by a celebrity, influencer, or friend spreading news about a world issue or important story. Instagram may seem convenient and useful, as it is a massive ocean with waves of information, but, as studies have noted, not all posts are accurate and reliable

Influencers play a significant role in news sharing across social media platforms, but what responsibilities do they hold when sharing news with their followers? According to a Statistica report from July 2021, 69.5% of Instagram users are under the age of 35, and there are nearly one billion total active users on the platform every month. 

Additionally, a report from The Guardian and data gathered by a survey from The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford found that the majority of US citizens between the ages of 18-25 use social media platforms to get their news, confirming that the majority of influencers’ viewers are young people who are able to see all of the information that they share. 

Nil Sani, an 18-year-old lifestyle and beauty influencer with over 459,000 YouTube subscribers and 353,000 Instagram followers, spoke about her role as an influencer in regards to spreading news to her social media followers. 

“It’s in the name ‘influencer,’ Sani said. “I definitely think there is [an] expectation to spread news, whether it’s an infographic, an article, or a link to more resources. [Influencers] literally have the power to share a message to thousands in seconds and actually have an influence on those who read [their] posts.”

With her ‘influencer’ title, Sani talked about the pressures that she and other influencers face when spreading news on Instagram. Sani frequently worries about posting one-sided or unreliable news due to fear of her audience’s response.

“Sometimes people forget that these influencers are 16-20 year-olds who are just like their viewers: trying to learn about a topic that has been around for decades,” she said. “It takes time to form a credible voice of your own [and] some quickly view your learning process as your silence. However, without taking the time to read about the situation and expand your knowledge on it, you risk spreading misinformation.” 

In cases where Sani doesn’t know enough about a topic, she said, “I try to use my platform to amplify the voices of natives or journalists instead of trying to fix my potentially false opinion.” 

Despite Sani’s influencer status, she said that she does not recommend relying on social media as one’s only source of news.

“Everyone has a different agenda especially in an era of consumer-driven media,” Sani stated. “Most people don’t realize that media outlets are businesses who want to make money. They want you to click on their post and share it so they present issues in a way that will make the user stay on the post for as long as possible, even if it means spreading fake news.”

Sani’s perspective provides insight into her experiences as an influencer, a role that she claims to approach with great care. However, some social media users are much more critical of how influencers spread information. 

“I think influencers are a really powerful weapon,” Emily Chang, a freshman at Pomona College, said. “Increasingly, [they] have a strong pull over their growing audiences, and for younger, more easily swayed kids growing up right now, influencers have a responsibility to promote truth and not gossip.”

A high school junior at IMG Academy, Michelle Young, agreed.

“I never listen to news from influencers because they always have some ulterior motive of sponsoring products or something,” Young stated. “Everything [influencers] do is in their own interest of gaining more followers, so I find that influencers are not the most reliable news [sources] at all.” She added, “I personally don’t think influencers have a role, as their only goal is to gain more popularity.” 

Echoing Chang and Young’s critical thoughts on social media influencers, a freshman at Stanford University, Robert Igbokwe, also noted the validity of the news that these influencers share. “I think Instagram and other social media sites are valid platforms for getting news, as long as one follows due diligence as they would when consuming any media,” Igbokwe said. “I think Instagram is a great place to hear about something first, but if it’s your only source of news then that’s a problem. But I’d argue that would still be somewhat true if the New York Times was your only source of news.”

From his personal experience, Igbokwe said, “I’d be lying if I said Instagram wasn’t at least the initial source of a lot of the current events news I consume. I just try to make sure it’s not my only source.”

The main news posts that are shared all over Instagram are infographics, which, as stated by the Washington Post are the latest Instagram trend. 

“They aren’t inherently bad, but one has to know how to approach them,” Igbokwe said. “Ask the questions social studies teachers have been teaching us since third grade: Is this a reliable source? Does it cite its research? What biases may be present?” 

Igbokwe continued, saying, “I think the reason people get so heated about infographics is that they, by nature, are attempting to simplify complex opinions and topics into digestible—and visually pleasing—slides. And worse (but maybe also better), it’s free terrain. Anyone can make an infographic which means that more voices—especially underrepresented ones—can be heard.” 

Sani also claimed that infographics lack important information, noting that “the whole point of infographics is to give the consumer a general idea of the topic without bombarding them with details. I wouldn’t solely rely on these posts to reach a solid conclusion because so little information is given, especially if the topic has an extensive history.” 

For Chang, though, infographics can have both a negative and positive influence. “On the positive side, infographics can be very helpful, insightful, and well put together so that necessary information can be spread,” she said. “On the flip side, I think many young ‘activists’ think that reposting to a story is enough when it’s not. People start to believe they are ‘woke’ or progressive when all it really does is become performative activism, which is more harmful than good. So while yes, it does spread information, it also gives young people an out to not take further action.”

How reliable news on social media is and if it is a good thing for young people to be regularly consuming this information is, as those interviewed demonstrate, up for debate. But for Igbokwe, that does not necessarily mean that younger generations should stop engaging.

“The past year and a half has shown that young people are more ready to learn about and engage with these issues than they are usually given credit for,” he said, “but I think we should remember that these aren’t light topics to deal with. For some, these issues exist as more than just a post on Instagram. They are lived experiences.”