If I were to ask your parent how they like to get their news, there is a large chance they would say television. While most Americans can identify bias on the television news networks we are all familiar with, new media can become harder to see through because it takes time to get used to and to fully understand.
One such new media is the internet. Since its commercial release in 1995, the internet has been constantly evolving and adjusting to fit its place in society. The rise of social networks illustrates the changing environment of the internet. Today, 80 percent of American adults get their news often from online sources.
So, where do you get your information? More than likely, as an 18 to 29 year old at university, you get your news from social media. Two-thirds of all Facebook users reportedly get their news from the social network. The dangerous side to this is that 64 percent of social media news consumers only get their news from one site, where their feed becomes their sole news aggregator.
Having single sources for one’s information can lead to a very one-sided frame of mind, thus warping one’s views. Political scientists have a theory about rooms of like-minded people that, given little to no difference in opinions among a group, that group is likely to become more ideologically extreme. This has been observed in both conservative and liberal groups, each becoming more extreme. These groups are called echo chambers.
There have been many recent studies about the digital hyper-partisan echo chambers that exist on social media. Most recently, Buzzfeed News published an analysis of Facebook pages. They took six large hyper-partisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left and three large mainstream pages. They found that the more partisan or misleading a post was, the more shares, reactions, and comments it generated on Facebook. This amplifies the effects of political radicalization, on both sides of the political spectrum, and further polarizes an already toxic partisan environment that ails America.
Even the news that Facebook recommends to users fuels misinformation. There were unsubstantiated accusations earlier this year that criticized Facebook of suppressing conservative sources on its Trending Topics tab. The accusations were confusing human “news curators” with an indiscriminate algorithm.
The system works by logging the number of mentions of a topic and the level of engagement the posts received to identify trends. The system runs solely on the algorithm, leaving the Trending Topics tab to repeatedly pedal conspiracy theories and highlight articles with inaccurate or false information. Simply put, algorithms cannot choose reliable sources, and Facebook’s Trending Topics tab is a marked example of such. It comes down to the dire need for fact-checking on the internet.
Fact-checking has been a growing field, with considerably more importance under the circumstances of the 2016 presidential election. Google has recently integrated fact checking with their Google News service. Richard Gingras, Google’s head of news, announced, “We’re excited to see the growth of the Fact Check community and to shine a light on its efforts to divine fact from fiction, wisdom from spin.” Tags have now been implemented under the titles of news articles in a Google search, linking to relevant fact checks by independent fact-checking organizations. Facebook, while becoming an increasingly important news aggregate, has yet to implement such a system.
This proposal of factual analysis comes from the idea of checks and balances. While the press is not a branch of government, it is the role of journalism within the freedoms in American democracy is to serve as a check and balance to power and politics. The press serves the role of watchdog, and aims to inform the populace, to discern fact from fiction.
Troyer is a freshman political science and journalism major from Florida.