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Getting Your News on Social Media? Here are 3 Things You Should Keep in Mind

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Social media is a powerful medium where people can discuss and share current events. 68% of Americans actually get their news from social media platforms despite 57% of them admitting to the expectation that what they’re reading is largely inaccurate. So why do people use social media as a news medium despite not trusting it? Convenience is the key here, but some also like the interpersonal aspect – being able to interact with others, discuss the news, and share within their network of family and friends.

Reading News on Social Media

While not all news seen and shared on social media is fake, stories shared on your feed should be oft-taken with a grain of salt.

1. Beware of the Fakes

“Fake news” is a term that the world didn’t know about ten years ago. But today, it’s one of the biggest problems in our modern world. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, fake news is tantamount to false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report places Turkey as the country that has the highest exposure to fake news, followed by Mexico and Brazil. The United States ranks fourth in the world and this is largely attributed to the emergence and spread of fake news during the 2016 Presidential elections.

Fake news is most prevalent on Facebook and older Americans are more likely to share fake news stories according to a recent study by the researchers at New York and Princeton Universities. There was no concrete conclusion on why older users were more likely to spread these stories but reached two potential theories. First that because older people haven’t grown up with the internet, they lack the same digital literacy of the younger generations who have. The second theory is that people are more likely to fall for hoaxes as they get older due to cognitive decline. This means you should stay away from stories your grandparents are sharing on Facebook, and maybe try to help them distinguish between real and bogus bulletins.

To combat the spread of fake news, Facebook launched a fact-checking program that uses both technology and human review to remove fake accounts, promote news literacy, and disrupt the financial incentives of spammers. But false stories can still fall through the cracks so stay mindful.

2. Double Check Health News

Health Feedback, a group of scientist that assess the credibility of health media coverage, partnered with Credibility Coalition in 2018 to examine the 100 most popular health articles of the year. They discovered that the majority of health news shared on social media contained false information and found that less than half had a high credibility rating. In addition, out of the 100 most popular health articles, 96% of those shares were through Facebook.

According to doctors, fake health news makes their job a lot harder. Dr. Shilpi Agarwal, a board-certified family medicine physician in Washington, D.C. says, in an interview with Health Line, that she spends spend a good amount of a medical visit correcting misinformation and re-educating the patient. “Patients don’t know who to trust,” Agarwal explained. “Their online source or their doctor?”

Fake health news can also spread false information about mental health. For example, an article published by The Guardian titled “Is everything you think you know about depression wrong?” was shared 469,000 times and suggested that most cases of depression are not due to a chemical imbalance in the brain but from a lack of fulfillment in one’s life. However, the article failed to provide links to scientific studies to support those claims. For this reason, the study mentioned above labeled the article as “not credible and potentially harmful.”

There’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental health and reporting it in the wrong way is a serious offense.

“Lots of people tell us that the stigma can often be worse than the mental health problem itself, and the media can perpetuate this,” says Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, mental health charity based on England.

When Health Feedback examined the articles with misleading information they found that the top three topics were:

  1. Disease and disease treatment
  2. Food and nutrition
  3. Vaccinations

3. Spotting Fake News

According to an experimental study from the Media Insight Project, Americans are more likely to believe the news shared if it’s from someone they trust even the piece was written by an unknown media source. The study also found that when viewing a post from a trusted individual, they felt more likely to recommend the news source to family and friends, follow the source on social media, and sign up for news alerts from the source.

getting your news on social media leaves you exposed to fake news

Here are some tips on how to spot fake news.

  1. Check the source – Investigate the site where the news comes from. Reputable news sites will have “Contact” and “About Us” pages. If the website is satirical, a disclaimer will appear in these pages. If the site doesn’t have these pages, this is a red flag since news outlets will provide a way for their readers to be able to contact them.
  2. Check the URL – Most fake news sites try to copy the URL of reputable news sites to mislead readers. If the site URL looks off, then it’s most likely to be a fake news website.
  3. Check other news sites – Do a quick Google search of the article title and find out if other news sites are reporting it. If it’s legit news, there should be other websites writing about the same issue.
  4. Check for quality – Legitimate news will have proper punctuation, grammar, and capitalization because all news sources have editors that will check for these mistakes before publication.
  5. Use media literacy sites – Search the topic on Factcheck.org and Snopes.com. These sites fact-check information and typically pick up what’s real or fake before the post goes viral.

When it comes to the news it’s important we’re getting it right, especially if it has to do with our health and wellbeing. Make sure you are doing your research and not blindly believing anything you see on social media. Fake news is the broken telephone of our time and the only way to figure out the truth is to go straight back to the source.

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