Countering the mainstream

Social Media Misinformation and the Need for Better Digital Media Literacy

by | Aug 24, 2021 | The Edge, Commentary

In an age when the majority of Americans get their news from digital platforms and where misinformation about a pandemic is spreading just as fast as the virus itself, digital media literacy is more important than ever. Recent studies have found that popularly used social media platforms like TikTok and Facebook have been central to the spread of misinformation, particularly about COVID-19 and its vaccines.

Young people are constantly bombarded with information across various platforms. According to a Pew Research study, over 80% of Americans get their news from a digital device. While accessibility to media is not inherently bad, studies have found that despite young peoples’ high exposure to information, many are unable to think critically and examine media presented to them. In 2019, researchers at Stanford discovered that 96% of high schoolers were unable to detect incorrect information from an unreliable source. Indeed, a high exposure to information and a poor ability to tell fact from fabrication is conducive to the spread of misinformation within American society.

High schoolers’ inability to detect fake news on the internet indicates an urgent need for schools to teach young people how to be intelligent consumers of news and information. Improving young peoples’ digital skills are even more important when one considers the misinformation spreading throughout social media about the deadly pandemic. Recently, the entertainment app TikTok has come under scrutiny for allowing the spread of misinformation about COVID-19.

Roughly half of all Americans aged 18–29 use TikTok – a portion that has likely to have increased as the platform’s popularity surged during 2021. Now used by over 1 billion people globally, the highly addictive entertainment app is home to dance trends, recipes, memes, and a variety of comedic videos, but it has also been used as a vessel for misinformation.

A recent study by Media Matters has found that despite community guidelines that specifically prohibit “misinformation related to COVID-19, vaccines, and anti-vaccine disinformation,” TikTok’s algorithm frequently amplifies lies about COVID-19 and vaccines to its user base. This revelation comes after the social media platform’s announcement of its commitment to promoting better media literacy.

Despite TikTok’s guidelines and affirmations of its commitment to promoting digital media literacy, misinformation is extremely prevalent on the platform, providing anti-vaccination and COVID conspiracy theories to anyone who might seek them out. This is especially bad, considering the surge of COVID cases in the United States due to the Delta Variant and high rates of vaccine hesitancy.

The study by Media Matters was revealing both in its exposure of TikTok’s skewed algorithm and the prevalence of anti-vaccine sentiments and COVID conspiracy theories on the platform:

“To test this, Media Matters reviewed and tracked which videos TikTok’s algorithm recommended to our “For You” page (FYP) after engaging with anti-vaccination and COVID-19 misinformation by watching the relevant videos in full and liking them. After engaging with this content, our algorithm quickly began filling the FYP feed with almost exclusively anti-vaccination and COVID-19 misinformation videos.”

Of course, the spread of misinformation is not limited to TikTok. Facebook, Twitter, and many other social media platforms have contributed to the prevalence of COVID misinformation. While there is a responsibility for social media platforms like TikTok to regulate their content, it is also important for people to be literate enough to identify dubious information.

 Young people must be formally taught how to consume digital media carefully and conscientiously; they must be provided with the tools to identify fact from fiction, lest dangerous misinformation continues to spread unhindered.

 

Image via The Quint

More from The Edge

9/11, the ‘Day that Changed Everything’

We still don’t know the story of what happened and why. On the evening of September 10, 2001, New York police officer Adam Hernandez was on patrol in his Greenwich Village precinct when he saw a man smashing car windows with a hammer. It was a random act of violence...

20 Years After 9/11, Mainstream Media Still Lies About U.S. Wars

Following the September 11 attacks 20 years ago, and the subsequent U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, the media broadly published pro-war pieces, often lauding U.S. military instigators as saviors amid the nation’s outpouring of furious grief. The next two...

Labor Day Headlines Dodge Workers’ Rights as Pandemic Aid Ends

Unemployment benefits that were implemented to aid workers during the pandemic ended September 6, coinciding with Labor Day. On September 3, the Department of Labor released its weekly unemployment insurance (UI) report, the last before pandemic benefits ended,...

2021 PCIM Interns Celebrate Summer Accomplishments

Desiree Holz (’23) is a Journalism major who spent the summer interning with The Ithaca Voice. Over the course of her internship, Desiree gained more than 10 bylines covering the labor shortage, new city planning developments, and other stories affecting the Ithaca...

For Afghan Women, Again

This struggle of Afghan women and the fight against misogyny is hardly new, and yet new developments are happening. Newly mobilized global feminisms may be emerging. If this can happen, it might just save our planet. Afghan women ask that there be no recognition of...

Media Bash Biden’s Afghanistan Withdrawal, Ignore Supporters

After 20 years of war in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden recently made the decision to fully withdraw U.S. forces from the country. The U.S.-backed Afghan government quickly collapsed and the Taliban, which harbored Al Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks, regained control....

Coverage of the IPCC Climate Report Can’t Stop Now

In moments when the climate emergency’s dire impacts become unignorable, mainstream news can produce appropriately urgent reporting, such as on wildfires and other disasters. But only sustained coverage of humans’ damage to the planet will communicate the depth of the...