Speaking up over social media

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In this age, and especially during these past few months, almost everything we know about current events passes through a filter: the media. Whether it’s print media, social media, digital news, television, or other sources, facts are almost always interpreted by someone else before we see them. 

As producers of the media, journalists reporting news bear a responsibility to present facts in an unbiased manner. As media consumers, we need to be cautious about detecting bias in the media we read. As sharers of ideas expressed in the media, we need to appreciate the influence we have and the consequences of our actions.

Ever since the Bill of Rights allowed us freedom of the press, we have expressed our partisan views through various media. Even news sources that try to stay as nonpartisan as possible sometimes bend one way or another. When trying to separate fact from opinion, look at all sides of the spectrum. Don’t only read the article that best aligns with your ideology. Go to a few sites that tend to bend in different directions, if only to educate yourself about contrary views and the arguments that others are likely to make. You can’t always base your belief system on a single trusted source. They might miss something, and when they do, you’ll miss it too.  You need to hear both sides of every story to form your own opinion and understand what is actually happening. 

When sharing news with others, this becomes even more important. It is also critical  that you know which sources are reliable. Looking at a friend’s Instagram story, it’s easy to think, “That’s a great point, I’ll repost it.” Please be careful about this. Posts can include numbers and statements that may not be accurate. They can also come from accounts that aren’t getting their information from good sources. For example, during the election you might have seen tweets that were meant to mislead and spread false information. If someone is making a claim with no evidence, you should immediately be skeptical. Posts might say that the Supreme Court’s decision to allow Pennsylvania ballots to be counted up to three days after the election would cause “rampant and unchecked cheating,” but without any reliable sources for info, this could be entirely false. 

Media is shared to influence others. If you repost something that includes inaccurate information, it invalidates the point you are trying to make. Of course, spreading knowledge is important, but make sure you fully understand each issue and research the topic before declaring yourself worthy of feeding it to others. Good things to share on social media are speeches, important dates, and information about how to help. Lots of people want to let their voices be heard but don’t know where to start. Being a reliable source of truth on social media is a good first step. 

It can be hard. Our politics tends to instill a very “us versus them” mindset where there often seems no middle ground. The divisiveness of this political moment can lead to uneducated conversations where there is no evidentiary basis for a particular view.  In this time, as always, facts matter, and the filter through which we see those facts matters, too.