Why You Always Lyin’

Social media is not a valid source of news

By Tiffany Lin | VTV Editor

In recent years, social media has undoubtedly become one of the most pervasive forms of communication. We’ve all used our favorite social media sites to share countless things: photos of our pets, the funniest YouTube videos, and even news about current events. In fact, for many people, social media is the primary source of news for many people. A Pew research study found that 61 percent of Americans born between 1981 and 1996 get all their political news from Facebook. Although social media can be used to disseminate information extremely quickly, it is not a reliable news source because of rampant ignorance and severe lack of fact checking. Therefore, social media should not be people’s primary source of news because it can cause many to become deeply misinformed.

The mass hysteria caused by social media can be problematic because people have a tendency to blow things out of proportion, especially when they know little to nothing about a situation. Just the sheer number of people who continue to believe the articles written by satirical online newspaper The Onion is a sign that the Internet is not the best source of news. Among those who have been fooled by fictional articles from this satirical news site are US Congressman John Fleming and two Bangladeshi newspapers. One of the most ridiculous examples comes from 2011, when tweets from The Onion indicated that Congressmen were taking children hostage. These reports based on completely unfounded claims did not stop people from retweeting and sharing the story. The Capitol Police even became involved, but it quickly dropped the case after realizing that the article was only a prank. However, because people jumped too quickly to conclusions, police resources were diverted to a nonexistent issue instead of helping those who actually needed help.

People have also taken to social media to get revenge on the price of misinforming the public. After the terrorist attacks in Paris, a photo of a woman identified as the female ISIS suicide bomber Hasna Ait Boulahcen began circulating on Twitter. However, the subject of the photo, Nabila Bakkatha, was not part of ISIS and did not even live in France. The photo was originally sold to French journalists by a former friend who wanted retribution. The story was picked up by The Daily Mail, spread rapidly online, and eventually printed in The New York Post. The news outlets later apologized and made corrections, but damage had already been done. In addition to being labeled a terrorist and facing the wrath of the internet, Bakkatha also had to explain to her own family why she was not dead. The story effectively ruined her reputation, as some of her relatives even stopped talking to her.

“My life changed drastically, I stopped going to work, and I cannot go out anymore as I live in continuous fear,” she said. “I am sure I will face a lot of problems if I travel to France.” Clearly, the willingness of people to blindly accept information online without questioning it shows why social media is not an accurate news source.

Time and time again, Twitter has served as a breeding ground for false information, especially after tragic events. For example, after a Malaysian Airlines jet went missing in 2014, an anonymous user on Twitter reported that his uncle had gotten news that it had landed safely in China. The Malaysian Digest even picked up this story until both the Malaysian and Chinese governments confirmed that there was still no sign of the plane. However, that wasn’t the only false rumor going around—others claimed that the jet had crashed in Malaysia, and one person even claimed that it was shot down by North Korean missiles. Although social media can be a potentially useful source of information to authorities, valid information is often lost amidst the babble of those purely seeking attention. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has become incredibly commonplace. As long as social media continues to exist, people will continue to grasp for attention, even if this means fabricating stories to get as many retweets possible.

Clearly, using social media as a news source is unreliable. We are told to take everything we read on the Internet with a grain of salt, but there are many who don’t heed this advice and instead take every word seriously. If this level of ignorance continues, it will become hard to distinguish between fact and fiction in the world of online content.