Social media literacy: carefully wading through the fake news in search of the truth – Saltwire

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We’ve all probably either been victim to or known someone who’s been influenced by misinformation on social media.
While most times it’s harmless observations about how to water your indoor plants correctly shared religiously on timelines, other times it’s potentially damaging information shared carelessly which could lead to angst or even mass hysteria.
Do you believe everything you see on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Are you able to critically think of the information you read, cross-check its authenticity against other evidence, available facts, and different sources before you make a judgement?

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“The great thing about social media is that we can share so much information, but the awful thing about social media is also that sharing of information,” said owner of Bold and Italic, Michelle McCann. “Sometimes it feels like a huge game of Telephone, where the story at the end of the line is nothing like what you started with.”
Bold and Italic is a boutique social media and marketing agency based in Truro, Nova Scotia. McCann started her business in 2013 when she recognized the value social media held for small businesses.
McCann believes that, while there are a lot of people who are social media savvy and go the extra step to make sure the information they are consuming and sharing is true, there are many more who believe that, if they see it on Facebook, it must be the truth.

 
“Whether it’s a major story or neighbourhood gossip, you need to consider the source when it comes to news.”
McCann follows a number of news accounts on Twitter — local, national, and international. “That is usually my main source of consumption for news. I tend to check my feed a few times a day to see what people are talking about. I find that it’s the quickest way to stay up to speed on what’s happening in my world.”

Echoing McCann’s idea of a game of Telephone, Halifax-based Kate Sullivan, who’s the Owner, CEO and online business manager at Virtually Connected Solutions, thinks social media feeds contribute to fake news in a ripple effect.
“Someone posts about something that is real (or fake) and, by the time everyone comments on it, it is frequently taken totally out of context and presented in a different light — whether or not the contributor intended that to happen.”
She explains that one can’t always be sure of the source or who is getting paid to promote or share information.

 
“Unfortunately, the consumption of information and news has to be taken with a grain of salt and cross-referenced with other sources.”
Diana Lariviere, a marriage commissioner based in P.E.I., says she rarely uses social media for anything other than business advertising and close personal exchanges with family and friends. She is of the view that social media is completely out-of-control and has become a platform for misinformation and the expression of personal biases.
“That said, I have serious concerns about censorship in any form. I always worry about who will have the power to determine what I see, hear and know. I fear being told what I should think. That is a backward step and a very negative one,” she said.
“Always ask another question. Never just nod your head in agreement. In the tutorials that I offer on understanding legislation, I insist on three questions being constantly at the forefront. Why? Where is that written? And, what is your legal or equivalent reference?”
– Diana Lariviere
Lariviere feels that there is a tendency for people to look for information in bits-and-bytes, rather than to take the time to examine, consider different sources and understand the complete picture, so that they can formulate an opinion based on all of the available facts.
“This is particularly true of millennials who have grown up in the age of short-forms, emojis, and cryptic notes,” she said.
She cautions people to question constantly.

 
“Always ask another question. Never just nod your head in agreement. In the tutorials that I offer on understanding legislation, I insist on three questions being constantly at the forefront. Why? Where is that written? And, what is your legal or equivalent reference?”

Nova Scotia content marketer Linda Daley frankly doesn’t get why people put so much trust in social media.
“I’m in my 50s, so it’s hard for me to imagine how easy it is to be taken in. My stepson in his 20s has had some experiences where I couldn’t understand how he believed what he was reading. I don’t mean to imply it’s a generational thing, but rather a life experience thing.”
She consumes her breaking news via Twitter on her phone and usually follows links from there onward for more information.
“I work in marketing, so I’m well aware that headlines and stories can be twisted. I’m ultimately skeptical, so I’m usually looking for confirmation to prove that something is true, rather than the other way around.”
Daley also thinks that people these days have to process so much information, whether they are actively looking for information or not.
“We’re overloaded,” she said. “There’s way more decision-making going on than in the past so our brains have to take lots of shortcuts.”
On social media, according to her, this comes out as quick and instant decisions to share something without really knowing whether it’s true or not.
“And some will do it consciously for attention too.”
McCann thinks that it is not always easy to define or recognize fake news.
“Much of the time, fake news is more subtle disinformation based in truth with the details tweaked or exaggerated — think of an event where 20 people attended, but the news (source) reports hundreds in attendance.”
She shares that we all suffer from a lack of attention when on our feeds and we share items based on the headline alone, without bothering to look at the source, read the article, or check the details.
“The social platforms have recognized that misinformation is an issue and you’ll often see warnings now when people post links to unverified news. It’s a small step, but an important one.”

So how do people sharpen their skills in being critical consumers of information on social media instead of blind followers? The first step, according to McCann, is to take a look at the source of the information.
“If it’s a news organization you recognize, there’s a far better chance that it will be based in fact.”
Then, she advises looking at the date the article was published.
“Information changes quickly in these times and something that was true a week ago may not be so today and social media algorithms make it easy for old news stories to pop up in your feed.”
She also usually tells people to use their own proverbial smell test.
“If it seems like it’s not real — for example, a Facebook page giving away a house or an RV — it probably isn’t.”
A habit Daley is working on building herself is to ignore the minutia.
“I won’t and can’t take the time to investigate everything, so I focus on the things that interest me and try to ignore the rest. There are ways to block content on all of the social media channels — it’s worth taking time to do that.”
Social media creates community. There is no arguing that. McCann shares that she has made many real-life friends over the years through social media.
“But it has also divided us and hurt our overall ability as a society to think critically,” she added. As someone who works in social media, she sees what a valuable resource it is for her clients to share their businesses and reach their customers.
“But as a user of social media, it can be overwhelming on a good day.”

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