With more people getting their news from social media, journalists are at risk of losing credibility
In 2020, former US President Donald Trump was accused of influencing an insurrection at Capitol Hill by allegedly spreading false information that the presidential election was stolen.
Thousands of people showed up to riot and hundreds stormed the building. Although Trump was acquitted of all charges of inciting the insurrection, journalists were left to clean up the mess by having to prove the reality of what took place that day.
Being a journalist during the modern era of social media comes with many challenges, but the main issue is the growing concern of fake news. With more and more people getting their news from social media, the credibility of journalists is at stake.
According to a survey conducted by polling group Maru Public Opinion, 26 per cent of Canadians aged 18-54 get their daily news from social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, while 23 per cent of Canadians aged 18-34 get their news from Twitter, and 20 per cent consume news through TikTok.
Additionally, with the rapid rise of TikTok, this has led to more users getting their news from other social media platforms rather than through traditional mediums such as television, print or radio.
Journalists have more work to do now because after having done the research, interviews, and gathering facts, there are still people who won’t believe them because of their personal or political biases.
Pew Research Center concluded that 65 per cent of Republicans trust Fox News as a legitimate source, while 39 per cent of them distrust CNN. Meanwhile, 67 per cent of Democratic-leaning people polled trust CNN as a news source.
According to the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer, 59 per cent of people believe “journalists and reporters are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” Additionally, 59 per cent of people also believe “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position rather than informing the public.”
With so much mistrust between the public and journalists, it’s easier to spread fake news and conspiracies because the regulations on social media to fight against propaganda and misinformation aren’t strong enough to stop it all.
Leaked documents cited by the New York Times showed that on Facebook, views of posts stating that the 2020 US presidential election was fraudulent made up 10 per cent of the views of all political content on the site. However, Facebook didn’t take steps to reduce the spread of this misinformation, fearing backlash.
This means that Facebook was aware of fake news being spread at an alarming rate, but did nothing to stop it and two months later, an insurrection occurred.
Throughout Trump’s presidential campaigns and time in office, he targeted anyone who disagreed with him, including journalists, and he did this at campaign rallies, on TV, at White House conferences, and most importantly on Twitter.
Trump was officially banned on Twitter in 2021 because he violated the site’s policy against the glorification of violence, but the damage had already been done.
With the ownership of Twitter recently falling into Elon Musk’s hands, the site now allows anyone willing to pay a monthly fee to be verified with the famous blue checkmark. Musk tweeted that “widespread verification will democratize journalism & empower the voice of the people.” This isn’t true. In fact, he has given power to the people who want to spread propaganda, fake news, and conspiracy theories because he allows anyone to have a blue checkmark as long as they pay a monthly fee of $7.99.
Musk responded to all the controversy of the new policy saying that Twitter will suspend any accounts attempting impersonations. However, with the massive layoffs that took place recently, I’m doubtful that Twitter will be able to monitor every fake account that pops up.
Over the course of the pandemic, it was difficult to decipher fact from fiction about COVID-19, especially on social media. According to Pew Research Center, 48 per cent of American adults were exposed to false information about COVID-19, which could’ve delayed people from taking the virus seriously.
If you watch the news, there aren’t many stories or segments where journalists, anchors or reporters debunk lies and misinformation. If journalists and news networks were more direct when reporting on fake news, perhaps it would change a viewer’s perspective because they are considering new information that they hadn’t heard before.
I think that fake news can be reduced if journalists use social media to their advantage and report on misinformation on a weekly basis. If journalists want to earn the trust of the public, they have to be willing to call out people in high positions of power and public figures who feed into the conspiracies, lies and propaganda.