“You can’t believe everything you read on social media.”
How many times have you found yourself saying that to others, or maybe yourself?
Social media has become one of the largest news sources for Americans. A 2016 Pew Research Center study found that 62 percent of adults in the U.S. rely on social media to get the news. This same study found that between 2013 and 2016, there was nearly a 20 percent increase in the percentage of Facebook users who get news from the platform.
Social media platforms have become ingrained in our culture and daily lives. They serve as a way for us to stay connected, especially during quarantine, and to share stories about our farms and families. For many, social media has become a platform for social change and advocacy. This can be positive because a farmer can connect with an urban consumer who would otherwise not have an opportunity to learn about how food is grown and raised. This also can be challenging because we have the freedom and flexibility to post anything without fact-checking or being held accountable for our statements.
Have you ever seen a Facebook post that upset you because it was inaccurate, misleading or downright fake news? I know I have, and you probably have too.
So how can we spot these kinds of news stories?
1. Check the source and the date. Many news stations have social media accounts, so you have probably seen friends sharing stories from your local news station, Washington Post, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wall Street Journal, etc. However, there are some accounts that aren’t connected to reliable news sources. If you don’t recognize the source, it is worth a Google search to learn more about its reliability. Additionally, it is important to look at the article date. This is especially important with things like COVID-19 that are rapidly changing as facts become outdated almost as soon as they are shared.
2. Is there bias? The goal of a news story is to present both sides of an issue. This is a fair and balanced article that allows readers to form their own thoughts based on the facts and personal stories shared by the reporter. You do need to be aware though that some outlets have moved more toward sharing one-sided stories that only touch on the other side or may not include it at all. There are plenty of news outlets that present a balanced point of view on controversial topics – these are the kinds of stories you want to read and share.
3. Verify the details. Check other news sources to see what they are reporting. If others aren’t reporting on the topic or are reporting information in an entirely different manner, there’s a good chance you’re not getting accurate information.
4. Read the article. Headlines can be extremely misleading to get more clicks. It is essential to read an article in its entirety before sharing it. There have been several occasions where I was about three-quarters of the way through a great article. Then, snuck in, somewhere in the last few paragraphs was inaccurate or misleading information that I didn’t agree with and wouldn’t share on my social media platforms.
We must keep our eyes open for inaccurate, misleading or flat out fake news as we find ourselves in a very confusing time. Information about COVID-19 seems to change hourly, we are nearing a presidential election and consumers are becoming further removed from the farm. This creates the perfect storm for opinions to be reported as facts and emotions to take control of our thoughts. As you spot accurate and informative articles, be sure to share them on social media and with friends and family. The higher engagement helps positive stories take center stage.
This column originally appeared in the October|November 2020 Rural Route.
Sarah Hetke serves as the director of communications for Wisconsin Farm Bureau. She is passionate about answering consumers’ questions about how food is raised and encouraging farmers to engage in those conversations.
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