I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook, like many of you I suspect.

I love that I can use it as a tool for work, I hate that its algorithm changes so often I always feel as though I’m three steps behind. I love that it allows me to keep in touch with far-away friends and family. I hate how its infinite scroll tempts me to zone out and waste time – though, what I really hate is that I succumb to that temptation.

I continue to follow the Facebook story in the news and wonder what will come of Mark Zuckerberg’s invitation for governmental regulation. In the meantime though, as users, we need to consider some self-regulation.

Digital Literacy in An Era of Fake News

The 2016 election and its ongoing aftermath have opened our eyes to the power Facebook has in our culture. While the company has begun damage control, and regulation might help prevent Cambridge Analytica-type unlawful activity, psychographics aren’t going anywhere. When we agree to use Facebook and other digital tools, we must understand that we are the product, not the consumer (a concept that pre-dates our current Facebook “crisis”). The thing is, when our data leaks to brands and politicians that isn’t the only threat Facebook poses. There is also the spread of misinformation by our friends and family, and disinformation by bad actors.

But even knowing all of that, I’m not quite ready to #deletefacebook. For now, I’d prefer to use this powerful tool in positive ways and do all that I can to mitigate its damage while I self-regulate. (Cue Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror)

While we watch the Facebook story unfold, it’s important to look at the part we play in the impact Facebook has on our culture. How can we be responsible about how we consume of the content we’re being fed? How can we continue to use the tool for good and not allow ourselves to be manipulated?

How to Mitigate Facebook’s Negative Cultural Impact

It begins with digital literacy. Understanding what we’re consuming, and sharing with discernment is a way we can curb Facebook’s negative cultural impact. Starting with these simple techniques, we can begin to make a dent in the problem.

Read Beyond the Headline

digital literacyIn a crowded marketplace, getting your customers’ attention is complicated. Clickbait is real. But using salacious headlines to grab attention isn’t new. The National Enquirer has been using the tactic in grocery store checkout lines for decades. Consider your Facebook feed to be an infinite Piggly Wiggly queue. We MUST read beyond the headline. We must consider the supporting evidence presented in the article before we take the headline at face value.

Once you’ve read beyond the headline, what have you discovered? Does the article prove the headline to be accurate? Does the writer present supporting evidence? Or was the headline just a clever trap to encourage click-throughs?

Consider the Source

When we’re reading a traditional newspaper, it is evident what is “news” and what is “editorial.” Opinion pieces are labeled clearly. When we’re consuming content on Facebook, that isn’t the case. At first glance, every story looks identical. A well-researched investigative-news story, written by a journalist — or team of journalists — adhering to published journalistic ethics (like these or these) appears in your feed the same way an opinion piece does.

When a friend shares a story on Facebook, your investigation of its classification should begin with the little gray text below the article’s description. From where is this article being shared? Do you recognize the name of the source? If you don’t, that doesn’t automatically disqualify it as “Fake News,” however, it should give you pause. As you read the article, consider whether the writer or publication has a vested interest in selling you something – a product, a candidate, a point-of-view. If they do, it still doesn’t disqualify the article; we just must be cognizant of the writers’ bias and read the article through the appropriate lens.

Investigate Further

As media continues to grow and evolve it behooves us all to be vigilant, careful, and informed in our consumption of it.

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If a story seems too good to be true, it probably is. We’re all susceptible to confirmation bias. We tend to believe stories (news or opinion) that confirm what we already think to be true. Thankfully Google can help us. When we suspect we are falling prey to confirmation bias, we must dig further. Is this outlet the only one reporting this “news” story? Why? What are other sources saying about the same issue?

When you See Something, Say Something (Carefully)

We all have that friend – or several friends – who is an expert at disseminating inaccurate information through Facebook. When you see a friend sharing a story that you know to be false, it’s important to point it out to them and stop the story from spreading further. How you point it out is critical, though!

Facebook’s algorithm works to elevate and promote stories that get user interaction. Meaning, the more comments, shares, and reactions a post receives, the more it will be served to others. Keeping this in mind, refrain from rattling off a snarky comment in response to a false story. Your snippy remark communicates to the Facebook gods, “I think more people should see this post.” Instead, reach out via messenger, text, email, or *gasp* in person, to let them know it’s false. Oh, and don’t use the “share” function to point it out to them – that’s an interaction too.

As a bonus, reaching out to share accurate information, personally, just might strengthen your real-life friendship, promote discussion, and get you both thinking more deeply about the topic (assuming you do it kindly). How’s that for fostering common ground?

To Delete or Not To Delete

Even if you’ve decided to #deletefacebook, these tips and tricks can be used on other social media channels and with digital content in general. Certainly, Facebook isn’t the only place where “Fake News” circulates.

As media continues to grow and evolve it behooves us all to be vigilant, careful, and informed in our consumption of it. Digital literacy is imperative, and it is something that we must continue to develop and improve.

Featured Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

 

To delete or not to delete. Perhaps Facebook isn't the only problem we're facing. As media continues to grow and involve we must all hone our digital literacy in an era of fake news.

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