Don’t Believe Everything You See on Social Media: The Rising Spread of Misinformation

Esther Cull-Kahn, Assistant Managing Editor

News is foundational to informing citizens and maintaining a functioning democracy, but when it is diluted with other content on social media, it can easily misinform. Most teenagers use social media to communicate with their friends, post interesting updates on their lives and scroll through relatable content, but social media is slowly becoming a medium for news as well. This shift is fairly recent, meaning that the growing reliance on social media as a news source is uncharted territory. This begs the question: if current events are being shared by friends and family regularly via social media, why would anyone want to read the actual news? The issue with receiving news from social media is that all types of content are promoted: health, relationships, fashion, food, etc. Teenagers need to be able to discern fact from fiction, and social media is making it increasingly difficult. 

Social media is a habitual part of teenagers’ lives, subsequently, the need for traditional news media is continuously decreasing. These traditional news sources are popular and acclaimed for a reason: they report the truth. This is not to say that mainstream media isn’t biased, but these large news sites do not generally fabricate important events. As the reliance on these conventional sources shifts to social media, the rise of disinformation threatens the quality of the thoughts and actions of young voters and activists. 

As the reliance on these conventional sources shifts to social media, the rise of disinformation threatens the quality of the thoughts and actions of young voters and activists.

Generally, if you scroll through Instagram stories, you will find a plethora of threads and posts aiming to raise awareness. Topics typically fall under the umbrella of social justice, ranging from racism, LGBTQ+ visibility, conflicts in the Middle East, and other general political news. The problem with many of these threads is not the intention behind them, it’s with the veracity of the information presented. Often, the information on these threads is not reliable; it is simply pasted from users on Twitter or Instagram. One example of fake news that famously circulated around the internet is Pizzagate: false claims of famous Democratic politicians and celebrities and their involvement in sex-trafficking. Even after Pizzagate was debunked, it spread around the internet and gained supporters nonetheless. It is difficult to know if the snippets and bullet points on the said issue are based on fact, as they usually have no sources and have not been verified. Most threads also use an aesthetically pleasing color scheme and cover, begging users to click on it. When there is no way to verify the legitimacy of claims spread on social media, disinformation is easily created and spread. Disinformation is a threat to the perception of the news and issues that dictate our lives. Especially with the election rapidly approaching, false information shifts people’s opinions into skepticism and denial, which could result in a weakened democracy. 

Few people can expect teenagers to dedicate an extensive amount of time and effort into discerning what is true from what is false on their feeds (although it is highly encouraged). Social media offers an easy way for teenagers to learn about the news without putting in much effort. It’s like baking vegetables into a picky child’s meal; obviously, it’s not the best way for the child to receive nutrition, but at least it’s an attempt to promote healthy eating. The advice that will best aid you is to be wary of the information you see on social media. There is a chance it could be true, but if you have no way of knowing, take the time to do some research before you repost it. If you want to be informed and involved, some reliable sources include NPR, CNN, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic. Although social media can be an easy way to spread information, it should not be treated as a replacement for news. Disinformation threatens the legitimacy of our democracy, and in today’s times of turmoil, a functioning democracy could be the only way to save us.