Over the years, social media has evolved into an outlet for people from different walks of life to obtain new knowledge of current events and social issues in unprecedented ways.
Unfortunately, because the federal government does not regulate social media platforms, little is done to ensure that users are receiving factual information.
In the social media era, online media sources sometimes create posts for the public eye that are controversial, inaccurate or exaggerated to increase clicks on their webpage and ad revenue. For many social media users, posts which often play into confirmation bias, are shared and spread like wildfire, causing a frenzy of misinformation.
Some users are quick to believe the online media, as they like, comment and share information which hasn’t been researched.
What was once a godsend has become a danger to society and makes it almost impossible for social media users to distinguish fact from fallacy.
Inaccurate news and/or headlines are pertinent among all social media platforms, especially Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
An example of this is a recent article posted by Reuters, which reported on a COVID-19 vaccine trial in Brazil, in which a volunteer of the control group had died. Although this participant wasn’t even administered the vaccine, the editors at Reuters allowed for the headline “AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial Brazil volunteer dies, trial to continue.”
Deliberately ignoring the participant being in the control group of the trial, this headline was reckless and promoted anti-vaccine agendas and unnecessary panic; Twitter users quickly expressed their anger over this misuse of information.
While it is pertinent that news media uphold the key values of honesty and reliability, social media designers must hold themselves accountable for allowing inaccurate articles on their sites and implement more changes to deplete this issue.
Popular apps like Facebook and Instagram have weak designs for stopping the spread of fake news, and do little to encourage users to engage more frequently with the articles they repost.
In April of last year, Facebook decided to make changes to its format to combat the progressively worsening issue of fake news, hate speech and political propaganda over social media. These changes include limiting the reach of webpages whose popularity is inconsistent with its reliability, as well as better examining groups to ensure administration and moderator content guidelines are not violated.
While these revisions are better than none, there are still some major hiccups. According to a blog post by Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, and Tessa Lyons, the company’s head of news feed integrity, “professional fact-checking partners are an important piece of our strategy against misinformation, but they face challenges of scale: There simply aren't enough professional fact-checkers worldwide and, like all good journalism, fact-checking takes time.”
Amid the massive leak of misinformation regarding COVID-19 and its corresponding arguments, Instagram also added third-party fact-checkers to its team. While information may be taken down on the Discover and Explore pages of Instagram, posts that have been marked as false by these fact checkers are still seen on users’ feeds.
Using third-party companies and an insufficient number of professional fact-checkers to flag and/or remove faulty posts from social media is not enough to ensure that account holders are receiving accurate information.
Minimizing the spread of misinformation and differentiating from Facebook and Instagram, Twitter has recently added a unique advancement designed to encourage users to actually read articles before interacting with them.
This advancement forces Twitter users to receive a notification asking, “Want to read the article first?” before being able to retweet any news media.
This improvement is a great encouragement for users to stop, take a moment to reflect and engage in the articles they might normally repost without haste.
Twitter also added a new notification earlier this year alerting users of tweets that violated guidelines but remained online for public interest. The feature gained attention when President Donald Trump had his own tweet censored on the app.
Instead of trying to mute and delete an infinite number of fake news pages, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram need to follow in Twitter’s footsteps and encourage users to seek out information on their own, rather than rely on small headlines and mediocre photos for the full story.
If other social media platforms don’t take these steps, political groups and media outlets will continue to leave users in the dark, unable to decipher between real news, biased claims and falsified clickbait.