Many often say that one of the greatest benefits of social media is that it allows the world to see things that might have once been hidden behind closed doors. From showing us the sometimes difficult and heart-breaking truths of the Russian/Ukraine conflict, to the realities of police brutality in the USA which spurred the worldwide solidarity of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in 2020. It has allowed us to break down barriers and has prevented things that might have once been quickly dusted away beneath the carpet, to be seen by millions, live. So why now is the hot topic of news and social media gained so much controversy?
Very recently, TikTok has faced a fight for its future in a slew of proposed bans on government devices. But why is this?
Marc Faddoul, a director at AI Forensics, a European non-profit that investigates algorithms, says that:
“What makes TikTok special and different to others is the rate at which it collects data from your interaction with it. If you spend an hour on TikTok, you are going to scroll through many hundreds – up to 1,000 – videos, and each view will generate data, such as length of viewing time, that allows TikTok to refine its targeting.”
This algorithm, however, is what’s driving suspicion surrounding the app and now, of others.
Such suspicion has only heightened in the aftermath of Shou Zi Chew’s (TikTok’s Chief Executive) appearance in front of Congress. Many users across the world reported that the morning after, a flood of “pro-Chew” videos began appearing on their “For You” pages. This created suspicions that TikTok was artificially promoting content that supported its stance against the bans. Although TikTok denied this and many simply stated that it was down to the users being “pro-TikTok” which would naturally lead the algorithm to promote such views.
But what does this have to do with news?
Many Executives have been accused of using their social media accounts to promote their agendas, from Musk and his apparent “anti-trans stance” on Twitter all the way to Zuckerburg in the American Elections a few years ago, users claiming that Facebook appeared to take a very “anti-Biden” approach to its posting. But the owners are not the only ones in the firing line. With AI becoming far more advanced, many have already trialled how easy it now is to mock photos to look like journalism, feeding the sensationalist and often act first research later many social media users typically have when it comes to news.
But how can we tackle it?
Unfortunately, it is not something that can easily be done on a personal level. Of course, the rise of “fake news” (or misinformation) has been a big one of late since COVID, with many using social media to spread news regarding the COVID jab and conspiracies surrounding the virus. With less people turning to TV and papers to read their news, many more are now turning to social media instead.
So then, is it fair to blame just TikTok?
But there are steps you can take personally to ensure that the news you are interacting with is “non-biased” and “true.” And to prevent you from sharing something that could do more harm than good.
Set Aside Your Personal Biases
Now we all have beliefs, be they religious, political etc. But it is very important to set those aside when it comes to reading news in general to prevent you from interpreting, favouring, and remembering information in a way that confirms those pre-existing beliefs, or “confirmation bias” as it is known.
There are a few ways you can do this. The most important of this is to be open to information and news that challenges your assumptions – why not read a differing newspaper to your political beliefs once in a while, or be open to listening and reading the perspective of someone with a differing opinion to yourself? Ensure when you do this that you completely take your emotions out of the equation and think of this information critically, this goes for reading anything on the internet.
Also, proactively choose your news services and go to their sites. Don’t rely on algorithmic feeds such as Twitter or Facebook, as these can often lean towards your bias – if you read something on social media, do not take it as gospel, do some reading up first to confirm it!
Don’t Tackle Everything at Once
Whilst it’s of course important to remain up to date with what’s going on in the world, don’t feel the social pressure to share everything about everything. Not only will it make you seem ingenuine, but it will also exhaust you and likely cause you to fall into a hole of sharing before researching. Instead, focus on stories that are important and relevant to you personally. Not only will you care more to follow through with them, but you’ll also likely know more information on those stories and be more willing to research anything that doesn’t seem right.
Have accounts that are claiming they’ll unfollow accounts that don’t “care” about a story? Let them. Don’t allow emotional blackmail to blur your opinion making or choose what you do and don’t share on your own accounts.
Be willing to read more than one source of information. Diversifying where you get your news from keeps you out of your own echo chamber, whilst spotting differences in stories can inform or raise questions in our minds – a very important skill to have.
Look at how news is covered by media local to that story or by news services that more closely cover that particular industry or social group. Local and niche news services know the people and contexts more intimately than national or foreign reporters who “parachute” into breaking news areas. Local news services are also more likely to follow up on a story after the rest of the world loses interest – heard anything about Iran lately? Probably not. But we can assure you that locally, women there are still fighting for their rights.
Distinguish between journalism and other information!
With social media it has become increasingly more difficult to distinguish between news, propaganda, advertising, publicity etc. If you cannot distinguish between them, you allow yourself open to being manipulated, by anyone.
Consider the following the next time you see something online:
- Consider the source
- Read beyond
- Check the author.
- Supporting sources
- Check the date!
- Is it a joke/satire (especially important on April Fools!)
- Check your biases.
- Ask the experts!
Also, when looking at an article, consider whether the journalist has done the same too. Do they cite multiple sources in their work? Is their information verified? Are they known to have a bias? If so, perhaps go and do some hunting of your own before assuming.
So, the next time you’re scrawling through TikTok, or twitter and you see a new bit of news being spread about, do all of the above first before hitting that share button and do your bit to be more social media savvy!