Want to truly understand the issues facing this country and the world? Look to traditional news organizations and print news for your information.
“Americans who get most of their news from print sources tend to be better informed about key issues than people who rely on social media, notes a study from Pew Research Center,” writes Rob Williams in Publishing Insider. “The finding is important for publishers that can demonstrate to advertisers they reach well-informed readers in a brand-safe environment.”
The findings are also important to every one of us, given the converse findings Pew reported.
“Even as Americans who primarily get their political news on social media are less likely to follow most news topics and be aware of specific events in the news, people in this group are as aware – or sometimes more aware – of several unproven claims and fringe theories related to the COVID-19 outbreak,” notes this post in Journalism.org.
The research is proving what many of us know from the rise and crash of social news credibility — getting your news primarily from social media leaves you not just under-informed, but misinformed. At this point in human history, this doesn’t bode well for the general population.
“One clear example is exposure to the conspiracy theory that powerful people intentionally planned the pandemic, a theory that gained attention with the spread of a conspiracy video on social media, Williams writes. “About eight-in-ten U.S. adults who get most of their news through social media (81%) have heard at least ‘a little’ about this theory, including about a quarter (26%) who have heard ‘a lot’ about it. That is more than among those who turn to any of the other six platforms [news website or app; radio; local TV, network TV, print, cable TV] for their political news.”
The era of “fake news” ushered in during our last presidential election has become a pandemic in its own right. “You’ll never see this on mass media” is bandied about as people share conspiracy theories on social media, ironically rebutting the mantra that traditional news organizations are “fake news” at the same time it echoes the dangerous belief that mainstream news isn’t news at all.
While exposure to a range of sources can be enlightening and expand one’s awareness, it’s critical to understand this one thing about social media: It’s designed to feed you “more of the same,” resulting in a filter bubble that’s increasingly difficult to pierce, even if the news in your feed is blatantly incorrect. And the more we see something repeated from a number of sources (regardless of source), the more our brains believe it to be true.
“For the first time, this means ‘a person like yourself’ is now as credible of a source for information as a technical or academic expert… In this new world, the hierarchy of traditional sources have been upended,” noted an Edelman report in 2017 that analyzed the climate of mistrust around news media brands.”
This results in a greater likelihood of people believing in unproven claims… claims like the virus were intentionally spread as part of a global plot, or the Iowa Democratic caucus results were intentionally delayed. (These two examples demonstrate that believing untruths goes across the aisle to both sides of the political spectrum, an important point in all of this research.)
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.