Kim Tsuyuki
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Lauren Montoya
Staff Writer

We live in an age of instant information. Once breaking news hits, it becomes available within minutes. However, with social media becoming increasingly integrated into our lives comes a major problem. Too often, we conflate social media with journalism. We share infographics that may oversimplify an issue, we spread information before the story has had a chance to breathe, and we post without further looking into the situation. In an article by Pew Research Center, a little under half of Americans turn to social media platforms for their news. They report that Facebook dominates the other apps, with almost a third of Americans regularly getting their news on Facebook. Across the other social media platforms, “about one-in-five Americans (22%) say they regularly get news on YouTube. Twitter and Instagram are regular news sources for 13 [percent] and 11 [percent] of Americans, respectively.” While social media is a convenient way to access information and engage with current events, it’s undoubtedly become the easiest way to spread misinformation. 

Influencers, celebrities, and political figures are especially infamous for posting misinformation, whether they intend to or not. With large amounts of followers consuming their images, videos, and tweets daily, their significance online becomes a crucial aspect when considering how they portray a story utilizing their own platforms. As an article is shared or retweeted, the story continuously changes from user to user, resulting in a multitude of different perspectives on what is truly happening within the world. However, Twitter is taking action to combat these efforts. In the wake of the capitol riots on January 6, 2021, the social media platform suspended more than 70,000 active accounts, according to SocialMediaToday for spreading misinformation or malignant conspiracy theories. On behalf of Twitter, they claimed that they were “engaged in sharing harmful QAnon-associated content at a scale and were primarily dedicated to the propagation of this conspiracy theory across the service.” Twitter has also implemented “misinformation warnings” onto certain posts that encourage people to believe in false claims, such as how COVID vaccines are ineffective and concerns about voter fraud during the 2020 presidential election. False content has been identified using a three categories/tiers system based on the status of the issue at hand: Misleading information, disputed claim, and unverified claim. While simple, this is a step in the right direction, in helping more people become aware of how they consume their news everyday and ultimately, becoming individual seekers of the truth within a world we are constantly trying to make sense of. 

The situation between Russia and Ukraine has sparked discourse on Twitter about the credibility of “social media news.” On February 23, Irene Anna tweeted, “tbh the whole culture of ‘NOT ENOUGH PPL ARE SPEAKING ABOUT THIS WE NEED TO RAISE AWARENESS’ has really made misinformation so much worse bc ppl feel compelled to write + share posts asap before they’re shamed. obvi a lot of other factors but just something to think about.” Social media influencers feel the pressure to post before they get canceled for not caring enough about the topic, and their followers often blindly follow their information, or misinformation. A research study was done by Pew Research Center in 2020 to show that Americans who get their news off of social media are less engaged and less knowledgeable. They asked 29 fact-based questions pertaining to a range of topics that touched on things like Donald Trump’s impeachment to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, their research showed, “across these 29 questions, the average proportion who got each question right is lower among Americans who rely most on social media for political news than those who rely most on other types of news sources, except for local TV.” This is because people who rely on social media for news are often more susceptible to unproven claims and fake videos. Furthermore, they don’t corroborate what they see on social media with credible news sources. Social media influencers are not trained journalists. Let that sink in for a moment. Associate Professor of English Joe Donnelly explains the importance of following journalists, “social media influencers are not, generally, journalists — though some journalists are influencers. So who and what are your sources of information on social media? Are they real journalists? (…) Real journalists seek the best obtainable version of the truth and follow a discipline of verification for what they report and write. It’s an objective method of testing hypotheses against observation and fact. The opposite of hot takes, memes and factional [signifying.]” In this age, it can be so difficult to discern what’s true at the rate information gets spread. 

Technology and social media can certainly provide a great space for someone to share their passion for a particular issue, encouraging others to participate in a form of activism. However, online activism (also known as “slacktivism”) has been criticized due to a lack of genuine interest, with little to no work involved as it takes seconds to post a “meaningful” photo with a “deep” caption. After the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in 2020, the issue of police brutality and systemic racism sparked various efforts around the world, from protests and marches, to posting a black square in reflecting upon these tragedies by pausing our lives on social media for a day. People were changing their icons to “Black Lives Matter,” inserting links to the movement’s campaigns/website in their bios, and of course, apologizing for past mistakes they are “deeply sorry for,” when realistically, are pressured by fans to avoid anything problematic from resurfacing. Even though we utilize the internet for communication and virtually everything else as a part of our everyday lives, ultimately becoming a new form of storytelling, the question still stands if online activism is enough, or if it’s just simply fake. In most cases, there is still much to be improved upon, and it all begins with responsible journalism. This can inspire people to do more research on issues and actually become involved in genuine conversation with others who aren’t a part of their own smaller social network of friends. Activism can work online alongside participation in real-time (in-person), such as with the Black Lives Matter movement, which had not only highlighted major issues within the United States justice system and its history, but it had also signified the urgency of similar issues occurring in other parts of the world. The combination of both forms of activism was greatly effective in encouraging change through conversation and action, even changing social or political views of 23 percent of U.S. adults who use social media, with Black Lives Matter being a central factor for some. Just as with anything else, especially now during the ongoing pandemic, online expression and communication is deeply rooted within our lives, which should be valued in making meaningful connections through how we share information and advocate for issues— ultimately, how we carry ourselves when we’re online and offline.  

So much misinformation has been spread. If you’re active on Twitter, you’ve most likely heard about the Ghost of Kyiv. On February 27, the video went viral on Twitter of a fighter pilot shooting down Russian aircrafts. It was later proven to be footage from a digital combat simulator. A video posted on an Eastern European media account with the caption, “#Ukrainian pilot shoots down #Russian attack aircraft near #Kharkov” was actually just video game footage from Arma 3. A Twitter user tweeted a video of Ukrainian President Zelensky chatting with Ukrainian soldiers and having coffee with the caption, “Zelensky drinking coffee and chatting with his fellow Kyiv defenders this morning. Imagine what a moral boost it must be for these troops to have the freakin’ president literally fighting next to you. What a badass.” He later corrected himself by saying that the video was taken the week prior to February 26, but didn’t take down the original tweet. The news of a cat dubbed the name “The Panther of Kharkiv” broke on February 28, and the cat supposedly exposed the location of four snipers. The photo used in the tweet was from 2018, and the fact that a cat can see sniper lasers has been debunked. Ukraine has not trained cats to spot these lasers, nor can they see infrared light. The list of fake news and misinformation goes on and on, but only further proves how dangerous social media can be. Professor of History Elizabeth Sage only further affirms why it’s so important to get your news from reputable sources, “I should preface my comments by being clear that I do not use social media for very much, and I do not use it at all for my news. (…) But for me, what is crucial is acquiring my news from reputable sources, and when it comes to current events, that means journalists or experts who have real training, knowledge, and authority in the field. I want to hear reporting on Ukraine from journalists in Ukraine who have been covering Ukraine for a significant amount of time.  And if “experts” are called in to provide information, I want those to be experts in the field.”

With all this, the question remains: how can we, as social media consumers, be certain the information we’re consuming is correct? And is it reputable? Wardman Library Director David McCaslin explained how students can become more information and media literate, “my first piece of advice would be to attend library workshops. These are usually small enough that you can ask specific questions about your own research or suggestions on best practices. Secondly, I think students should ask questions and vet the media report they are consuming. Again, this is a basic tenet of information literacy. For instance, if I see a video clip on Twitter that claims to show an incident in Ukraine, how do I know it is legitimate? Who is sharing the video? Is it a legitimate news agency like the New York Times or Associated Press? A high number of re-sharing or retweeting a post does not legitimize information in the post.” He also suggests looking at the platform that is spreading this information. Look at if they fact-check what is posted on their sites and if they provide transparent vetting of information. If that all seems overwhelming, there are browser plug-ins that can provide assistance such as Newsguard “which seeks to provide a sense of context and provides reviews and ratings of websites, is a way to evaluate whether the information site you are viewing has questionable content” says Director McCaslin. Wardman Library also often hosts workshops such as “Introduction to Online Library Research” and “Evaluating Information in the Age of Clickbait, Fake News, and Deepfakes.”

The internet is bittersweet, really. We laugh as we scroll through numerous memes scattered across our feed when we need a dose of positivity, but all of it can also be overwhelming with the amount of misinformation actively being spread with just a simple click or tap. Within the current moment of unrest and conflict, journalism continues to be vital to the human spirit that in return, embraces it through meaningful storytelling, or at least we should. While social media is convenient and accessible, expanding our knowledge even further and educating ourselves truly begins when we explore a variety of news sources, and distinguish between what’s true and what’s false. We may not ever reach a time where the internet is perfect and everyone practices information/digital literacy, but holding others and our own selves accountable in what we post can contribute to a better online space with less misinformation.

Featured Image Courtesy of Emily Likins/Medium. 

Authors

  • Kim Tsuyuki

    Kim Tsuyuki is a third-year English major with a minor in Film Studies. This is her first year working for the QC and is currently writing for the Arts & Entertainment section. When she isn’t working, she can be found playing video games, collecting stickers, and watching the same three movies (over and over, like chill out Kim). She’s kinda sad, but mostly hungry.

  • Guest Author

Kim Tsuyuki is a third-year English major with a minor in Film Studies. This is her first year working for the QC and is currently writing for the Arts & Entertainment section. When she isn’t working, she can be found playing video games, collecting stickers, and watching the same three movies (over and over, like chill out Kim). She’s kinda sad, but mostly hungry.

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