Always be suspicious of social media news

According to a new study, Americans have serious trust issues.

Whether it’s government or social media, it’s now customary to treat everything we read and hear with skepticism. We’re also increasingly pessimistic about the ability of social media to deliver credible news.

There are solutions to these trust issues, but before we put faith in social media again, we need to understand the root of our suspicions.

First, most of us don’t know how to fix the social-media-news credibility-delivery problem.

A report from the Pew Research Center published last week found that most Americans were unsure how social media could improve the quality of news delivered on our feeds.

Facebook and other platforms have been grappling with the “quality” issue since long before November 2016. We just needed a big event like a Presidential election to expose the problems with using social media to get all of our news.

It’s also no surprise that we’re a bit cynical about the recent efforts of Facebook and others to deliver news from unbiased sources.

Pew report authors Elisa Shearer and Elizabeth Grieco found that a majority of Americans believe “social media companies have too much control over the news … and that the role social media companies play in delivering the news … results in a worse mix of news.”

“At the same time, social media is now a part of the news diet of an increasingly large share of the U.S. population.”

This begs the question: how do we resolve our social-media-news trust issues?

It begins with bypassing social media and going right to trusted news sources.

I know, I know — that’s rich advice from the guy who extols the virtues of social media on a weekly basis. But if you’re reading this column directly from the source that published it (Tribune-Chronicle, The Vindicator), you’re part of the solution (and thanks for reading).

If we’re no longer using social media to get our news, or if we’re simply using these platforms as access points to reputable news sites, then we’ve taken the first step to resolving some trust issues.

A second option relies mostly on system changes needed at the social media platform level, but we still can help.

Shearer and Grieco noted that most Americans (88 percent) realize Facebook and others have some control over the type of news we see. Social media companies open their doors to news sites and write the algorithms to filter in the news we see (and filter out what we don’t see).

That lack of user preference control is a serious problem.

“About six-in-ten (62 percent) say social media companies have too much control over the mix of news that people see on their sites,” said Shearer and Grieco.

Some platforms like Facebook have installed safeguards and reporting features to limit the amount of questionable news we see, but this hasn’t stopped bad actors from trying to find back doors into our news feeds.

It’s up to us to help rebuild trust. When we see “news” on any site — social media or otherwise — look at the quality of the source before liking the content, commenting on it or sharing it with others.

We know there’s a problem, but understanding our options will help resolve some trust issues without relying solely on social media to do it for us.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn. com.


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