Rethinking Media Literacy and Social Media in the Age of Fake News

We’ve all been there – sometimes, in your urgency to spread some important news, you share an article without reading it. However, this can be a problem if what you share turns out to be different from what you think you are sharing.

For instance, a satirical news site once posted an article that read “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting” – the article itself, however, was a block of “lorem ipsum” text. After it went viral, it turned out that half of all people who shared it never clicked it. While this is humorous, this could have problematic implications if people do not know what information they are spreading on the internet.

According to the Pew Research Center, over 80% of Americans are currently getting their news from social media. In an ideal world, the responsibility for spreading misinformation would rest on the shoulders of institutions rather than individuals. However, because this is not the situation, this means media literacy is important when it comes to identifying fake news to avoid sharing it. Unfortunately, despite efforts to increase media literacy among children in recent years, a 2019 report from Stanford University found that a majority of high school students are unable to distinguish fake news from credible sources.

While there are admirable efforts geared towards increasing media literacy, limiting exposure to social media and slowing down to absorb the material can encourage people to process information in a more balanced way and judge an article by its contents rather than the headline. Slowing down can also give people time to examine the evidence so as not to spread fake news. By being thoughtful and critical of the information we have before moving on to new information, we can be more informed by depth rather than breadth of information.