Misinformation in Social Media and Proposed Solutions

The Harmful Effects of False News

The editorial's premise in All the News That Causes Fits is that false news – which is constantly being spread by social media – has done a lot of harm to the electorate. As a result, the author claims that partisan players in the 2016 U.S. elections used social media to misinform voters by fake news and conspiracy theories as a way of disseminating disinformation.

The Role of Consumers in the Spread of Fake News

While such partisan groups are most responsible for the spread of fake news, the role of the consumers of such news is also significant considering that a majority of American adults trust social media more than mainstream news sources ("Our Appetite For Fake News Does Real Harm To U.S. Democracy"). Benjamin Herold, the author of Media Literacy vs. Bogus News, agrees with the previous observations citing that the youth are not well equipped to determine real from fake news. Herold also concurs on the unignorable significant role of social media platforms in peddling internet hoaxes, baseless conspiracy theories, biased news, and partisan advocacy (Herold). An examination of their articles shows reveals that both authors converge regarding the nature of misinformation, its dangers, and the function of social media but also shows divergence regarding proposed solutions.

The Nature of Misinformation and Its Dangers

As relates to the nature of misinformation, both authors seem to agree that untrue information is often the production of partisan individuals or organizations whose purpose is to serve selfish interests. According to the editorial, All the News That Causes Fits, publishers of fakes news have taken advantage of the fact that the general American public has grown increasingly distrustful of mainstream media. Publishers such as click-bait websites, for example, have since published catchy information to attract unsuspicious online visitors for profit generation purposes. These sites are not concerned about the effect of the manufactured information they propagate. Instead, they use visitors as a means to an end which in itself could be considered ultimately unethical ("Our Appetite For Fake News Does Real Harm To U.S. Democracy"). Herold also maintains that the nature of online misinformation is caused by the "prevalence of private groups pushing their agenda under the guise of unbiased news." (Herold).

The Dangerous Propagation of Misinformation through Social Media

Secondly, both articles are in concordance regarding the potentially dangerous nature of misinformation propagated through online social platforms. The editorial, for instance, warns that partisan groups serving their selfish interest could use social media to peddle misinformation. In fact, the article cites the example of a presidential candidate who used the Twitter social platform to communicate to the electorate false conspiracy theories with the intention of garnering support for their presidential bid. Similarly, Herold cautions that fake news "misleads and blinds us" in reference to an observation by BuzzFeed News that over 100 websites supporting then 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump was being produced artificially by a single source (Herold). The same agency also reported that hoax websites and blog pages were engaged more online users more mainstream media outlets did. Indeed, these observations from both Herold and the editorial point towards the threat posed by fake news and particularly as relayed through social media platforms.

Proposed Solutions for the Misinformation Menace

Regarding the proposed solution for this increasing menace of misinformation, the editorial cautions that self-policing strategies instituted by concerned social media companies are not sufficient. If anything, self-regulation could even be counterproductive to the freedom of expression by threatening parody and satire sites. The editorial hence proposes that it is the ultimate responsibility of the body politic to regulate the new scape at the personal level. One of the proposed means of achieving this goal has been cited as the instituting media literacy as a fundamental component of the education system. This proposition is also by Herold's perspective that media literacy programs at the high school level could help equip the young generation with the necessary means of distinguishing fake news from reality. For instance, it has it is suggested that media literacy training could help students to consume news with a more critical, cautious approach.

Differences in Target Focus

Despite their similar approach to the issues of fake news, the two articles differ regarding their target focus. The editorial concerns itself more with the electorate as its target audience. It addresses this groups as the single-most important category of people who are influenced by fake news without their conscious knowledge. For example, the article suggests that fakes news or misinformation can adversely affect capability as a component of a workable democracy. On the other hand, Herold's message is concerned with the education system and particularly high school students who are surprisingly vulnerable to misinformation. In demonstrating this perceived vulnerability to sources of fake news, Herold, for instance, observes students have been led before to believe not only the existence of a tree-welling octopus but also that the said species is endangered.

The Need for Curbing the Misinformation Menace

In summary, it is appreciable that both articles at least agree on some critical dimensions of the issue of misinformation and fake news. Social media platforms can reach millions of people in seconds, hence availing information in the fastest ways possible. It has since become unfortunate that people blindly trust social media as a source of real information. With partisan groups taking advantage of this reality, it is only imperative that relevant organizations institute policies to curb this growing concern. Until then, the masses are bound to suffer the detrimental effects of misinformation.

Works Cited

"Our Appetite For Fake News Does Real Harm To U.S. Democracy." America Magazine. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Aug. 2017. Herold, Benjamin. "'Fake News,' Bogus Tweets Raise Stakes For Media Literacy." Education Week. N.p., 2017. Web. 29 Aug. 2017.

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