5 Ways to be a responsible social media user in an era of fake news

If 2016 taught us nothing else, it's that fake news and misinformation has finally become a threat to social media. And more importantly, to cultural and geo-political awareness. When fake news and clickbait headlines start flooding our social feeds, it's up to us as users to fight back and filter the content that we allow in our personalized social media ecosystems.

 
 

The reality is that most mainstream media outlets like to bend reality a bit—not so much lying with intent, but sensationalizing events and issues. This is done in an effort to give their viewers what they want—like tossing meat to the wolves. Fox panders to conservatives, CNN to liberals. No secret there. But there is an endless list of media groups that flat out publish nonsense. See Pizzagate and Pope Endorses Trump. And while these sites are ground zero for fake news, social media users like you and I are the messengers. We determine what spreads like wildfire. And we can stop it.   

Let's look at 5 ways you can become a more responsible social media user and make sure you're not only getting the most accurate information available, but also sharing accurate information.

1. The Company You Keep: Curating Your News Feed  

The beauty of social media is that you, the user, ultimately controls the news that populates your feed. You are the gate keeper—the ultimate curator. A firm and arduous cleansing of your feed is in order. Not because you allowed it to get clogged up with garbage, but because the tone of social media has evolved—the vultures have descended. Since we often use social media as a source of information, it's important to remove the noise and create a perfectly curated social media ecosystem. 

To do this, you'll need to purge the Pages you follow. Learn how to identify clickbait and if a page you follow is guilty of this heinous crime, unfollow them without hesitation. I personally used to love Mashable and Consequence of Sound...until they started dropping clickbait articles into my feed. Gone.

You also need to remove the neo-tabloids that knowingly share false information just to generate high click rates for their advertisers. You know who they are when you see them, so take the extra five seconds to visit their profile and unfollow. In a race for clicks many decent media groups have spiraled out of control, morphing into a meaningless feed of conspiracies, lies and controversial accusations. Cut the cord by unfollowing content publishers that serve a shameless advertising agenda. Then replace them with trusted, reliable sources.

Tip: try international news groups & organizations that have no political agenda. 

2. Background Check: Vetting CONTENT Sources

What we share on social media is just as important as what we absorb on social media. Over the last year, we've witnessed a total and complete collapse of social media ethics. All previously accepted rulebooks on user behavior and responsibility have been thrown out the window. Social media users now have a higher propensity to share false information than ever before—fictitious stats, quotes that were never said, things that never happened, you name it.

It's time to take the power back. 

Be a more responsible user and confirm the source of the next meme, infograph or article you want to share. Ask yourself, where was the article published and do I consider it reliable? Can I cite the group who did the study and published these stats? Is that source legitimate? 

Consider your social media experience to be a carefully curated magazine of all the people and things you want to read about—and you're the Editor in Charge. Act like it. An editor would require 2 sources before running a story. So before posting an article to Facebook that has shock value, check around to see if other reliable news sources are running with it.

If qualifying your sources seems like too much trouble, than consider not sharing articles and published information. Stick to pictures of your cat. You owe it to the rest of us. 

3. Drop the Dead Weight: Removing "Friends" 

As users and content creators we are the first line of defense against false news by policing our own social media space. If someone within your network has a penchant for posting false information, they are part of the problem, which leaves you two options; call them out publicly or remove them from your ecosystem. There is no responsible third option.

A quick audit of  your friends list should allow you to break your network into three categories—real friends, old acquaintances and harmless randos. Of course, your family and good friends pass through without issue. But think real hard about the type of content the acquaintances and randos are posting. Is this too political for my personal social space? Does this guy post too much negativity? Do I really give a shit? 

Don't be afraid to remove friend statuses, life will go on.

4. Reap What You Sow: Read What You Share

This one's easy. Just because a post headline makes it seem as if the article is about what you think it's about...it might not actually be about what you thought it was about. Know what I mean? Make the effort to at least skim through the actual article before sticking it front and center on your Twitter page. The world isn't moving that fast...if it's worth sharing it's probably worth taking the time to read. 

5. SLOW DOWN: Children at Play

I'm almost 40. And it's becoming apparent that I now have to share my space in the "adult" world with younger generations. They drive on the same roads as me. They shop at the same places as I do. They live in my neighborhood. And they hang out on the same social channels as us. And if you're a parent, you literally share physical space with them. 

Your personal profile is only one search away from anyone who's interested in looking you up. I personally remind myself that my nieces and nephews—mere pre-teens—are popping up on social media, and easily able to access my profile.   

Food for thought: The NSA archives every social media post ever made on a super server at Fort Knox. Your posts will live for eternity. Generation after generation will have access to the social media footprint we leave behind. What will your feed say about you? 

T.J. ChampittoComment