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Traditional news readers are better informed: The case against news on social media

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If social media companies have any chance of dealing with the scourge of misinformation on their platforms, they have to take into account this one important fact: Consumers that get news from social media already know it’s often inaccurate.

The finding comes from a recent Pew Research Center survey, as reported by Rande Price of Digital Content Next. While Price notes more than half of all US adults surveyed get their news “sometimes” or “often” from social media, there’s a catch.

“Interestingly, despite the fact that they often find their news on social media, consumers question the accuracy of the news they get on these platforms,” Price writes. “Approximately six in 10 consumers (59%) say that they expect the news on social platforms to be largely inaccurate. Unfortunately, the data shows little change over the last three years. Even after two congressional hearings, there’s still an abundant amount of vaccine, Covid-19, and the 2020 presidential election misinformation on social media.”

In other words, we keep going back to the well, even when we know that water could be poisoned. We know social media news cred is sketchy … and we keep drinking it anyway.

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Only 29% of consumers believe the information they get on social media actual helps them better understand the issues, Price reports. “Further, 23% believe the news on social media leaves them more confused and 47% report that it doesn’t make much of a difference.”

Platforms, meanwhile, have made attempts at flagging misinformation … with dismal results. The giant continues to run amok. The news cycles of the last several months only show how ineffective these flags are; conspiracy theorists and fringe profiles seem to relish getting called out for misinformation; some even seem to see it as a badge of honor that they are “telling the truth.” At the same time, social media companies have far too much power to spin algorithms toward trending news in an endless cycle of amplification. 

There is also loads of money to be made off misinformation, which is often deliciously viral.

“A recent investigation of Facebook found 430 pages with 45 million followers monetizing misinformation with Facebook tools,” Price notes, demonstrating that money continues to talk no matter what.

The platforms clearly haven’t been able to “fix” this. Even knowing what we know, neither have consumers. The real fix comes when consumers seek out and subscribe to the news services they actually do trust. Traditional news sources, magazine news media and respected journalism sources do exist … and traditional news readers are better informed on the truth.

The takeaway is clear — if you want to be a better-informed person and avoid the filter bubble echo chamber effect that can lead you away from facts, look outside social media for your news. Traditional news organizations, while they do tend to have some political leanings, are still the best sources for comprehensive and accurate reporting.

David Pilcher
VP of Sales & Marketing, Freeport Press