Has Social Media Made us More Gullible?


Over the past few weeks, we’ve been learning about media development, its ethics and our responsibilities as reporters through Dan Gillmor‘s We The Media.

One thing Gillmor discusses is taking news out of context – it’s so easy to cut and paste just what we want to hear from anyone’s article, and if one person does that, it can get mindlessly pushed around the web, possibly without anyone realizing that what they’re sharing isn’t completely truthful.

“The spread of misinformation isn’t always the result of malice,” as Gillmor says.

This mindless sharing that occurs is something that really interests me. A very recent example is The Daily Currant‘s piece on the man who was in charge of the Olympic ring failure at the opening ceremonies was supposedly found dead that recently went viral.

Now, if you had known anything about The Daily Currant previously to reading that article, you would have known that they’re a satire publication, similar to The Onion. But many people didn’t realize that, and the article spread across the internet like wildfire.

“Be careful of satire; some people are just too dense to get it,” Gillmor writes.

This type of sharing incident brings up a lot of ethical issues and asks what really is responsible satire and news-gathering. Because the audience can tend to be a little too click-happy with hitting the “share” button, is it the journalists’ responsibility to clearly attribute not only their own information, but their own opinions? Whose fault is it, really, that people believed this semi-clearly labeled story?

Social media allows us a new platform to be share both the truly newsworthy and the completely irrelevant. Not to say that everyone doesn’t really want to know what food matches your personality, but when things like prison breaks in Iran are going on, there are arguably more important things to be sent around the internet.

What you share says a lot about you. As a journalist, we’ve discussed a lot of tactics for branding yourself and creating a professional image on social media. This is critical in our day and age – are you simply regurgitating links or are you actively participating in the content? Are you seeking out accuracy in sources, or are you simply clicking the “share” button blindly?

“On the internet, we are defined by what we know and share,” Gillmor says.

The day-to-day shifts of technology make it easier and easier for us, as both audience members and active reporters, to sit back and simply share other people’s work. While there is validity in broadcasting a good piece of news or an interesting take on an issue, it’s easy to drown in the masses of information and simply get lazy. The whole concept of “armchair activism,”or essentially participating in an issue by just sharing content on social media networks, stems from the idea of only joining into something that is comfortable for us.

Journalism has never been about comfort. Journalism is about pushing the boundaries. Journalism is about telling the stories, even the difficult ones.

The lines between “real” journalists and someone who just started a blog are pretty hazy, which can make it hard to determine who to believe. Even though we’re told “not to believe everything we see on the internet,” it seems, more often than not, unless the story is extremely outrageous, we’re willing to participate in a groupthink-like mentality where you go along with the flow and don’t question things that you’re not sure about.

“When anyone can be a writer, in the largest sense and for a global audience, many of us will be,” Gillmor says.

We are all desperate to share our ideas on everything, and many of us simply swallow those ideas and stories without a second thought, catching us in the conundrum of who to trust. You could argue that there are bloggers more reliable, transparent and ethical than many trained journalists. How do you make sense of the overwhelming amount of information?  Should you believe everyone? Should you believe no one?

In this social world, who do you believe?

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