Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Social Media's Effect on Public Opinion

By Ciara Sebecke

Social Media as an Inevitably Biased News Source

We can no longer ignore the many ties between social media and journalism. Social media is still not considered by many a source of "real" journalism, but, like it or not it is where almost 20% of Americans get their news. Think about yourself and your family. How often have you been seeing political articles being shared on Facebook and Twitter?

The influence of social media on the public is undeniable. Facebook's influence on the 2016 election is hard to ignore. Purposeful or not, the Facebook algorithm influences what news articles pop up in our news feeds, often confirming an already present bias. 

These algorithms favor the types of articles and followers that you interact most often. Since during the election I most often interacted with a handful of close friends and coworkers who all supported Hillary, I most often saw Hillary-positive articles on my feed, and often sponsored posts from the Hillary campaign, and from her own obviously biased Facebook page.

My parents, on the other hand, interacted most often with articles that were pro-Trump or anti-Hillary. Many of their close friends also in the baby boomer age group have similar views, so I can only assume that their feed is in direct opposition to mine.

People enjoy reading articles that confirm their present views, so it makes sense that I would see more left-leaning articles and my parents see more conservative viewpoints, both solidifying our views and driving us farther apart in our opinions.

Source: http://www.independentsentinel.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/FB-News-600-LI.jpg

The Importance of Online Media Literacy

I have often been frustrated when my own mother shares a noticeably false article, not realizing that sites like abc.com.co aren't the same as abc.com. Even I, with an almost completed degree in journalism, don't always make the distinction at first glance.

As a journalism major, it worries me that so many Americans are viewing fake articles and are unable to discern between fact or fiction. Mark Zuckerberg claims that there are more real articles than fake on his platform, but I have witnessed the influence of fake or misleading news sites on my own family. And of course, when one is shared, there are a handful of angry comments, none of the commenters realizing that the article is fabricated.

I can't help but believe that these numerous fake news sites and misleading headlines have had an impact on the most recent election. Not everyone has a media savvy daughter to teach them media literacy and scrutinize every article they post. I know that my mother originally finds these articles from another Facebook friend, and of course, after clicking on one, there are numerous other "suggested" fake articles, with the headline, "people also shared."

In a world where anyone can create a website, write an article, and post it on social media, we must teach our children and our elders media literacy and make sure they are able to distinguish fact from fiction, trolls, and satire. We mustn't forget that our parents and grandparents haven't received the same education in technology and new media that we have, but are still avid users of social media and Facebook.

It is also time that social media sites make an effort to favor objective and truthful news stories, instead of reinforcing biases and opinions with an algorithm that gives opinionated or extreme articles higher importance. I'm talking to you, Mark Z.

No comments:

Post a Comment