Social media shouldn’t be our primary way of engaging with current events

To engage with news, we must first consult reputable news sources

Beth believes we need to abandon Facebook and Instagram as our primary news sources.

In 2020, 90 per cent of American millennials got their news from popular social media platforms.        

Looking at our habits of news consumption, the last piece of news most of us read or heard would have been on Instagram or Twitter. 

While social media is great for getting young people invested in current events and spreading awareness on current issues, we need to veer away from using it as our primary news source and avenue for engaging with current events.

The advent of social media has given increased opportunities for non-reputable voices to be heard in the media. This has led to the doubling of “fake news”—where misinformation is spread to influence public opinion and obscure the truth—on social media between 2019 and 2020.

The spread of fake news over social media has been particularly detrimental during the pandemic, deterring social media users from being able to access important information about COVID-19.

For example, in comment sections on stories addressing COVID-19 where lies about public health are spread or threats are directed at public health officials like Anthony Fauci, more attention is brought to harassers themselves and less to the content of the stories.

Our favourite social media platforms also create larger divisions in opinions about current events and politics than I’ve ever seen before. Many of us are guilty of forming our opinions based on what our favourite celebrities or loved ones post to their Instagram story.

While it’s acceptable to take the opinions of others into consideration when forming our own views, it’s vital we also formulate our beliefs based on verified facts and statistics.

Using social media as a primary means to engage with current events can also be misguiding and deter us from meaningfully engaging with news stories.

An example we see on a regular basis is misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, which is amplified easily through social media.

Over the past year, misinformation ranging from COVID-19 vaccines containing microchipscausing autism, and not providing the same immunity to the virus than the immunity one has after contracting the virus itself have run rampant in comment sections.

All of these myths have been disproven by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies show lies spread six times faster than truth does on Twitter.  When we see something on Twitter or Instagram that we think is new and novel information, it’s a habit for some of us to retweet or repost, because we believe we’re in the know.

When this is paired with false information being spread by public figures like Donald Trump, people start to buy into them. That’s when harm is done.

Author Licia Corbella writes in the Calgary Herald that “every person who blindly believes lies and doesn’t verify facts before sending them out via various social media platforms is guilty of damaging our democracy.” She continues on to call Trump the “Spreader-in-Chief.”

When opinions are formed based on misinformation, we see these voices get taken out of context time and time again. We need to read the facts before forming our opinions and educate ourselves before reposting.

While I don’t think it’s a requirement to become an expert on every current event going on, it’s important we encourage each other to educate ourselves before reposting anything on our stories.

It’s worth being mindful of how we consume our news media and changing our focus from what others are doing on Facebook and Instagram to current issues that affect our world through reputable news sources.

The digital age has allowed for many legitimate news sources to appear directly at our fingertips. 

Listen to a news-based podcast, pick up a newspaper, or watch a newscast. Though it’s tempting to repost news stories that catch our eye in our newsfeed, it’s critical we spend the time to get informed before promoting further discourse.

While I previously used Instagram to get my news, I’ve since turned to news outlets like CNN and CBC to keep up with current events.

Beth Dennis is a second year Health Studies student. 

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