By Ryan Beckford
Every day when I log into my Facebook account, I am greeted by a status from a friend that was posted hours before. Most of the time, it is a status about their day or it is a “frustration status” about a story from the media. Social media have become a platform where every individual is a news producer. Friends are reporting and updating each other on activities that are breaking stories. News reporters are now taking to their own social media accounts to give updates of the stories around the nation. Then there is me, a 23-year-old millennial and NBCUniversal intern, scanning social media trying to decipher what is accurate and what is fake on a social media platform where billions of people converge.
When I think of social media, I think of online networking interfaces that weave together groups that were once disconnected. Social media was non-existent when I was younger and living in Jamaica, West Indies. After I had migrated to the United States to chase a better life, social media slowly started to integrate into the lives of millions of people. Today, I can play the role of a media producer and create social partnerships with individuals around the world. Together, we can create and share media content across our web of social media friends.
Last year’s presidential election gave social media users a new stance on media content. During the election, fake news took over social media. The conversation has evolved into an obsession over checking online publications for accuracy. Today, social media sites such as Facebook have upgraded their algorithm to help filter out fake articles. However, as an avid social media user, it is of my own discretion to determine which articles are accurate before I share them with my Facebook friends.
I once was at fault for sharing fake news. When I logged onto Facebook, many of my friends were re-sharing an article about President Donald Trump. The article was interesting, and it captured my attention. It had millions of re-shares and thousands of views. Right away, I thought the article was accurate. The article talked about Donald Trump sending his own plane to transport 200 stranded Marines. It was posted on a military news website which appeared professionally produced. On Facebook, the post had over 800,000 online engagements with users. Then, I proceeded to share it with my own friends. Later, I decided to research the information from that article. The information was nowhere to be found. It was then that I knew I was at fault for falling for fake news. Immediately, I deleted that post from my profile.
The article had already had its intended impact. Re-shares upon re-shares and status updates upon status updates, the fake news article had done its job. Being fooled and brainwashed by inaccurate news articles is not fun. I seek to make it my duty to urge media consumers to always analyze and research the information that is being delivered. It is important for users to be responsible for their online actions. Consequently, we must urge people to take a few minutes to research the information and check out the source of an article before choosing to post or re-share that content or publication on their social media. Furthermore, I find it imperative to encourage users to read the article and not just the headline.
On social media, I choose to follow the accounts that best align with my personal interests. When it comes to the news, I seek to read stories by both conservative and liberal publications to get details from both perspectives. Upon reading the stories I find to be interesting, I sometimes post the article to my profile along with my thoughts and opinions. Most importantly, now I double check my sources before reposting an article for others to see. When I see other publications such as Huffington Post, MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, and The Washington Post report on the topic, I trust that the story has some level of credibility.
The news is used to inform citizens and deliver truthful reporting. As a millennial wanting to work in the media as a career, my goal is to guarantee that people can trust the media for their reporting. Fake news damages that trust, and the term “fake news” pollutes the minds of society. One aspect that gives me hope is how social media platforms have taken the issue of fake news into consideration. Their goal is to ensure the news is delivered with accuracy. This, in part, will help prevent users from being duped. However, I fear for children and teenagers, who use social media more than any other user group. I fear that online fake news articles can target and pollute their minds because some are more easily brainwashed and convinced. When children and teenagers are online, they have the chance to share and engage with articles or content that appeal to them. Some are capable of analyzing and questioning any media they consume, while others will spread information on their social media accounts that closely connects with them. This is why I believe it is important for children and teenagers, along with parents, to be more mindful and educated about media literacy and online media consumption.
When I discovered that I had shared a fake news article, a feeling of guilt and unworthiness came over me. For one, I know how to research and cross check news articles; a semester of media literacy studies has taught me some essential life skills for the 21st century. Two, I need to think about, analyze, consider, and question all media messages, especially those I agree with, before I share them with my social media friends. As a media producer, my representation is important, and sharing fake news can ruin that credibility. In hopes of protecting high school students and other children exposed to social media and fake news articles, it is my duty to educate my social media friends when it comes to media literacy and implore them to cross check and analyze content before sharing it with the world.
Social media connects our nation with the rest of the world. Fake news brainwashes and disrupts the minds of millions. Then there is me, a media consumer and producer who is educated in media literacy. I made the mistake of re-sharing fake news and learned from it. I was too quick to share the article I found because of how interesting I found it and thought it was credible. And I was fooled. Now, I am more cautious than I ever was before. It took one mistake for me to come to that realization. Spreading inaccurate news is not a representation of the person I am. As an intern at one of our nation’s largest media companies, I needed that one mistake to teach me a lesson that I had already learned in media literacy class: to analyze, research, and always ask questions. Our advanced digital age has taught me to always think and analyze every piece of media. Therefore, knowing the source and cross-checking the content are important. Social media impact me because millions can share an article and brainwash one another. Media literacy has taught me to analyze every piece of media content. Fact checking is important, research is recommended, and cross checking with other sources is a good way to assure you are media literate in today’s political discourse.