As an active space filled with millions of users who frequently use the platform to speak out on current events, it comes as no surprise that social media acts as a central outlet for a range of information. Many people, especially young adults, use social media as their sole source for news. Forbes published an article last year stating that 55% of U.S. adults get their news from social media either “often” or “sometimes”, which was an 8% increase from the prior year. As platforms continue to grow and expand, this number is most likely still on the rise.
News on social media appears in many forms. It has become an essential part of journalism, with many journalists using Twitter to get headlines out quickly, or Instagram to repost an article they have published. Almost all major news outlets have their own social media accounts in which they use as an extension of their publication. However, any user has the ability to post content presented as fact, which in turn has the potential to be consumed by people worldwide.
Major events have occurred in the past few years that have shifted the way that the public consumes and interprets their news, such as the 2016 election, COVID-19, and most recently the explosions in Lebanon. This has not only increased the volume of news but has made accuracy more important than ever.
As a result of this, major social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have all taken responsibility in identifying and combating misinformation, while also trying to remain true to the idea that social media is a space where freedom of speech and expression is highly recognized.
One of the most recent steps Twitter has taken to create transparency with its users is labeling accounts. The accounts of key government officials will be clearly labeled as such, and there will also be state-affiliated media labels for higher-up journalists such as editor-in-chief and senior staff members. This is a big step for Twitter, as it will directly inform users of verified sources, as well as correspondingly holding these sources accountable. Twitter stated that they will no longer include tweets from these accounts in their recommendations, as a part of their efforts to support the free and independent press.
Instagram and Facebook have similar tactics in their efforts against the spread of misinformation, however, Facebook especially has been accused of being a major hot spot for hate speech and false content for years without action. Recently, Instagram has enforced a system to label posts that may be false, while giving users the option to read why and choose if they still want to view it. Both platforms have employed fact-checkers to review posts, stories, ads, and more. This is where Facebook has received backlash, as many discuss the possible dangers of putting this major responsibility in the hands of a third party. Facebook has also declared that posts made by politicians are not subject to fact-checking, and only outside links included in posts made by politicians can be fact-checked, such as attached links or photos.
The viral nature of social media can be harmful to the spread of misinformation, and posts can be seen by millions before their content is verified. Platforms are asking users to help them in their role to remain true to the facts by reading suggested articles to gain context, as well as being familiar with their guidelines and reporting posts that seem to be false.