Fake news is defined by one source as “articles or photos that are false and designed to mislead” (Gaultney et al., 2022). Fake news is everywhere and is threatening democracy. This essay will argue that the spread of misinformation requires not only digital media literacy education, but also the actions of social media companies.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 52% of Americans in the sample rely on digital platforms for their news (Shearer, 2021). Moreover, 53% of people who access news from digital devices use social media to get their news (Shearer, 2021). Because social media is a news source for many, it is easier than ever to be a victim of fake news.
What makes fake news so convincing? Fake news stories often have the same format of real news stories (Huber et al., 2022). This makes fake news stories seem legitimate. Additionally, fake news stories tend to take advantage of the audience’s emotional responses. For instance, if a story makes someone upset, the user may feel more inclined to share this post with others. It is important to be aware of this emotional tactic and approach these types of posts with caution (Fraser Hall Library, n.d.).
To understand the effects of using social media as a news source, we must analyze the structure of social media platforms. Social media companies capitalize on the audience’s attention; they are structured in ways to get users hooked to the app. The main way platforms hook their users is through algorithms that show users what they want to see. This results in users only seeing posts that support their opinions and perspectives, which works as confirmation bias (De Witt et al., 2019). Moreover, the structure of social media platforms practically “rewards” users for sharing misinformation (Madrid, 2023). When a user posts or shares something, attention is drawn to their account. The attention the users get may motivate them to continue sharing posts, without considering if the information they are sharing is accurate (Madrid, 2023).
As for digital literacy education, a research study concluded that this type of education makes people more leery and critical of news (Huber et al., 2022). As awareness of current news events is important in news media literacy, digital literacy education can improve one’s fake news detection abilities. Moreover, it was found that those who are educated in media literacy may view themselves as “effective participants in the democratic process” (Huber et al., 2022). These individuals may feel responsible for correcting disinformation. The study concludes that fake news literacy has a positive relationship to taking corrective action when disinformation is identified (Huber et al., 2022).
I believe that at a consumer level, digital literacy education is the best strategy for combating fake news. Although it is impossible to educate every individual to look at online posts critically, implementing digital literacy education into the education curriculum will create a new generation of critical thinkers. This will lessen the spread of misinformation, as the audience will begin looking at online information from a critical perspective. Moreover, since it was found that individuals who are educated in digital literacy may feel responsible for correcting misinformation, I believe that this is the most realistic way that consumers can mitigate the spread of fake news (Huber et al., 2022).
While digital literacy education is the best mitigation method on the consumer side, there is room for improvement on the side of social media platforms. These companies should be taking steps to combat the issue of misinformation, as they are the ones providing the platforms to share these inaccurate media pieces. To prevent the spread of misinformation, social media companies should put more emphasis on the report features of the applications as well as implementing fact-checkers. For instance, Meta has implemented third-party fact-checkers that flag a post as “false news” (Meta, 2022). This allows users to verify this information before believing or sharing it. As those who are educated in digital literacy may feel responsible for taking corrective actions, this feature would provide a new way for users to combat misinformation.
Although companies like Meta are implementing systems that work to combat misinformation, the sad truth is that these social media companies care more about profits than they do democracy (Muha, 2022). As advertisements are the primary source of revenue for social media companies, they are more concerned with getting as many users to see the advertisement as possible. To maximize the number of users who see the advertisements, they may put out posts with extreme political views into the algorithm to attract attention (Muha, 2022). Therefore, social media platforms operate from a profitability perspective and are done without considering the effect that this may have on democracy.
Social media provides a platform for misinformation to spread quicker than any other time period. Additionally, technology is allowing individuals to alter media, such as photos, videos, and audio (Gaultney et al., 2022). This impacts democracy as news posts may contradict each other, making it difficult for the audience to distinguish fake news from real news. Fake news and misinformation can be used to alter political perspectives of citizens. This can cause citizens to be influenced to vote for political candidates that they may not actually support, thus affecting democracy.
To conclude, digital media literacy has been shown to help individuals view news from a critical perspective. Implementing more critical thinking education into school curriculums will contribute to preventing the spread of misinformation and will encourage individuals to take corrective actions when misinformation is identified. Although I believe that digital literacy education is the best way to prevent fake news at the consumer level, social media companies must take active steps to stop the spread of fake news. I hope to see these companies shift from creating algorithms that only focus on increasing profit, to an algorithm that puts more emphasis on fighting the spread of misinformation.
De Abreu, B. (2021). Gatekeeping Misinformation with Media Literacy Education. Knowledge Quest, 50(2), 26–31. http://proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1323969&site=ehost-live
De-Wit, L., Van Der Linden, S., & Brick, C. (2019, January 16). Are social media driving political polarization? Greater Good. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/is_social_media_driving_political_polarization
Fraser Hall Library. (n.d.). Library website : Elections and politics information: Ways to avoid the spread of false info on social media. Ways to avoid the spread of false info on social media – Elections and Politics Information – Library Website at SUNY Geneseo. https://library.geneseo.edu/ElectionsAndPolitics/SocialMediaLies
Gaultney, I. B., Sherron, T., & Boden, C. (2022). Political Polarization, Misinformation, and Media Literacy. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 14(1), 59–81. http://proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1344747&site=ehost-live
Huber, B., Borah, P., & de Zúñiga, H. G. (2022). Taking Corrective Action When Exposed to Fake News: The Role of Fake News Literacy. Journal of Media Literacy Education, 14(2), 1–14. http://proxy.lib.sfu.ca/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1348964&site=ehost-live
Madrid, P. (2023, January 17). Study reveals key reason why fake news spreads on social media. USC News. https://news.usc.edu/204782/usc-study-reveals-the-key-reason-why-fake-news-spreads-on-social-media/
Meta. (2022, October 4). How fact-checking works. Transparency Center. https://transparency.fb.com/features/how-fact-checking-works
Muha, T. (2022, October 9). Social media prioritizes profit over people. The Michigan Daily. https://www.michigandaily.com/opinion/social-media-prioritizes-profit-over-people/
Shearer, E. (2021, January 12). More than eight-in-ten Americans get news from Digital Devices. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2021/01/12/more-than-eight-in-ten-americans-get-news-from-digital-devices/