OPINION: It’s time to end the spread of misinformation on social media

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When social media first got big, I doubt anyone immediately thought, “Wow, this is going to be the place for literally everything.”

What started as a way of connecting with old friends has become an all-purpose tool for shopping, communicating, news gathering and so much more. It is used by businesses for marketing, employers for scouting and journalists for, well, pretty much everything they do — for better or for worse.

Misinformation and genuine fake news stories spread like wildfire simply because social media users don’t take the time to really think about what they are sharing.

I used to be really bad about this. All those share, like or comment buttons are so convenient to use, and it only takes about a second. You might not even think about what you just did ever again.

Journalists, however, will think about the hundreds of things you share all the time. Our job of providing timely, accurate and relevant news gets that much harder because now we have to fish through a flood of junk information to figure out the truth for ourselves before letting the public know.

Journalism and social media have a unique relationship that can be both beneficial and detrimental to the news gathering and news distribution process.

To start with what is great about this relationship, news sources can interact with their audiences like never before. We as consumers have more options when selecting what news outlets to keep up with, and we also have more impact on the kind of news that gets shared.

Journalists can reach out on social media to find stories people seem to really care about, reach out to potential sources and even ask, “Hey, did any of you guys get a picture or video of that thing that just happened?”

OK, that last one might not happen as much as we wish it did, but it does happen sometimes.

And then you get what is not so great about this relationship:

This seems to show Emma Gonzalez, a Parkland, Florida, high school shooting survivor, ripping up the Bill of Rights. This would be a daring act on her part if it wasn’t for the fact that the picture is fake:

See the resemblance to that first tweet? It’s all Photoshop. The second tweet gives us a link to an opinion editorial Gonzalez had written for Teen Vogue about gun violence with a video of her ripping up a paper target for shooting practice, which can mean whatever you want it to mean.

I’m not here to talk about Gonzalez’s stance on gun control or even my own. I’m simply here to say, as a student journalist, this is exasperating.

The relationship between journalism and social media gets rough when suddenly there is a mass — and I mean a big mass — of users who intentionally or unintentionally share misinformation like the fake image of Gonzalez above.

The purpose of this post is easily to misrepresent Gonzalez. Whether it was supposed to be ironic, satirical or just plain untruthful to cause an uproar is unclear.

I was unable to find the original posting of this photo. Maybe the original was deleted. That does not stop the masses from sharing it with whatever context they choose to give it.

Social media has changed our audience from whoever can snag a copy of the latest newspaper to whoever can access the internet, which is actually terrifying if you think about it.

Back when I was the social media manager for the Collegian, I saw on our website analytics that someone in Yemen was on our website. That’s just your humble little student newspaper, too. Think about how those massive news outlets must spread around the world.

Think of the number of followers you have. When you share things, do you always double check its accuracy? There’s a solid chance the answer is no. That’s OK for now, but hopefully this example helps you pause for just an extra split second before hitting that share button as a reactionary response.

We’re all learning the best ways to use social media, journalists especially. I’m just here to give advice based on my experience as a former social media manager who dealt with backlash on stories, as a student who’s read the advice from experts and as a person who is ready to defend good journalism against the spread of false information on social media.

Kelsey Kendall is a senior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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Kelsey Kendall
Hi everyone! I'm a senior in journalism and cultural anthropology. My favorite things are storytelling, coffee and meeting new people. In that order.