The veracity of online content

     With the plethora of social media platforms that are constantly publishing posts left and right, social media users are incessantly bombarded with content as they browse. Whether it be news and scores about the NBA playoffs or short updates about the ongoing political campaigns, social media users are subjected to updates on the sites that they frequent. The sheer amount of this content begins to beg a couple of questions. How can someone gauge the veracity of something posted online? What are the potential consequences of taking something at face value and then later finding out later that you did not get the entire story or even the right story at all?

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     I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who has read something online, told it to someone else a few hours later, and later realized that what I had read and passed along has been an unsubstantiated rumor or outright falsehood that I had not only consumed, but also contributed to its spread. Loosely related, we discussed in class the story of the woman who tweeted something that was interpreted as being racist, hopped on a plane with no internet connection, and then debarked to find that the internet had already served as the judge and jury about the perspective and intent of her tweet. A lot of this stemmed from her being unable to defend herself from the internet, but this doesn’t lessen the fact that a large portion of the internet consumed and spread something that, she claims, was not true.

     Determining what sources are authentic and whose content can be trusted has grown increasingly hard in 2015. Any random internet user can create a mock profile and begin posting content that could be, and frequently is, interpreted as being from the actual brand itself. We saw one instance of this in class when a rogue Facebook user impersonated the customer service department of companies and replied humorously to complaints posted on the brand’s Facebook walls. While this was most likely incredibly funny to us as third party viewers and even boosted the awareness of the companies themselves, this user certainly was a headache for the brand as many of their customers reacted negatively to the content being posted by the “customer service account”. Brands need to be aware of instances such as these and react appropriately or fear these types of things going viral and reaching the endless audiences of the internet.
target-troll-hed-2015     I think an important step in ensuring that you’re consuming and sharing content that is authentic and verified is by doing some research of the topic yourself. It isn’t all that hard for someone to take a few spare minutes and search online to confirm whether an article posted is clickbait nonsense or is substantiated by other reputable sites. This step, albeit small, would work wonders if all internet browsers took it seriously. It’s sometimes wild to me how many posts I see shared on my Facebook timeline that clearly haven’t been researched whatsoever. I admit it’s funny when a Facebook page clearly messes up its content to be funny, but at the same time one has to consider when things such as clearly photoshopped quotes from presidential hopefuls could potentially shift public perception. How silly would it be if someone voted against the presidential candidate they most identify with because they saw an illegitimate quote from them on Facebook?

     There is definitely a business incentive for brands to be aware of the content that is being posted about them online and make an effort to ensure that it’s of a legitimate source and authentic. Unsubstantiated sites publishing misleading content takes a lot of the brand control away from the firm and allows it to be potentially dragged down and damaged by these outside sources. Businesses should monitor social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook to ensure that third-party content matches their intended brand goals and marketing strategies.

     Sorry for the long-windedness of this post, I am just curious what people’s experiences have been with this topic. Have you ever found yourself wondering about the truthfulness of something that you’ve seen posted online? Have you ever spread false content unknowingly?

5 comments

  1. I think you bring up a good lesson here and one the media has been under scrutiny for with bad information coming out about everything from bacon significantly increasing the risk of cancer to who was responsible for the Sandy Hook shooting a few years back. I personally choose to not share a lot of stories simply because I don’t want to further bad information. If I do share a story, then I make sure it is a reputable source, as you mention, or has been corroborated by multiple sources. Ultimately, the responsibility first falls on the person publishing the story to uphold moral standards in reporting truths and then there is only so much a person can do to verify a story.

  2. Nice post. I think traditional media really needs to change their role. Far from being the ones who create the “scoop,” they need to be the ones to be the reliable sources. Unfortunately, when traditional media so often gets their own news from Twitter, it can be challenging.

  3. Solid post. I remember earlier this year when reports surfaced that Drew Brees had seriously injured his clavicle and would be out for the season. As a Saints fan, hearing this news was absolutely heart breaking. Fortunately the news was grossly misreported, as Brees’s injury only sidelined him for a week. Same situation with the outcry from Facebook supposedly changing to a subscription format. Misinformation has a nasty habit of spreading rapidly, particularly those stories with dramatic headlines. It’s now crucial to take all social media stories with a grain of salt and corroborate them with reliable online sources. Sadly, many traditional media outlets often get their stories from social media making it even more difficult to weed out the real stories from the fake flashy headlines. Personally, my go to source is Reuters.

  4. Traditional media largely plays partisan politics these days, while social media “news sources” consist almost entirely of people like you and me who don’t actually understand the issues. This has been and continues to be my biggest gripe with social media – anyone can purport to know what they’re talking about; this is somewhat natural human behavior because we all want to add something to the conversation and we want to be correct! Too few of us are willing to admit that we don’t know something well enough to provide any meaningful insight. Gone are the days when newspaper articles could be relied upon to use proper grammar and spelling; gone are the days when news sources reported actual news, rather than biased opinions; gone are the days when experts on television were actual experts.

    As I mentioned in my gun debate presentation – do your own research! Don’t take anyone’s word for it and take the time to truly diligently research all sides of every story, argument, or debate, so that you can form your own opinions and decisions that are not influenced by clearly biased sources.

  5. I actually touched on a lot of these same points when I wrote a blog post about Kony 2012 a few weeks ago. One of the biggest takeaways I mentioned in this post was the fact that the millions upon millions of followers of this extremely viral campaign never once spent even five minutes looking into the status of Kony, the nature of the charity that made the video, or how the video was received by the Ugandans (the very people it sought to help). If they had just done a few minutes of research, they would have seen that Kony had been inactive and out of Uganda for 6 years, the Ugandan people actually hated the video so much that they pelted screen with rocks during a showing of it, and the charity they made it was basically a sham. Matt from Digitas last week spoke about the short attention of people on social media sites, and things like Kony 2012 and the issues you mentioned are the result of that social media span. It’s actually pretty frightening just how quickly people will accept things at face value and how much power they have to spread false or inaccurate information. Just as levboston mentioned, the rise of social media as a news source has completely undermined journalistic integrity by giving average people, who don’t have to answer to any bosses/standards/etc, as much power as journalists who have had to uphold these standards for decades.

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