All Too Easy: Spreading Information Through Social Media

By Jason Riddle

Social media has changed the way we interact with information

The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.


“Social Media” is a relatively new phrase in our society. The social media phenomenon began in the new millennium around 2003. One of the first social media network to attract a great number of users was Myspace. Myspace is a social media network that enables users to create a personalized wall, and have their friends visit their digital wall of likes and dislikes. This was also the place to post pictures, songs, videos and was digital way of being unique. Following the success of Myspace came many other forms of social media. Currently, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ are a few of the more popular social media websites today. The more popular social media websites are centered around a wall of information that is populated by friends and advertisers. Social media has helped increase communication and information travel internationally and across borders.

The uses of social media are varied, but they do have a common goal. The main goal and life of social media is to share. People can share thoughts; people can share information; people can share funny or offensive pictures and videos. No one is forced to read anything on social media because the user controls what he or she views. The social media user can choose who to be friends with, what information to see, what information to click on to read more about, what information to believe, who to accept communications from, and ultimately to be a part of social media with an active profile.

Social media is used to share information. The information can be truthful, un-truthful, or an opinion of the writer. Truthful information can be difficult to ascertain, but can most likely be found on the majority of national and local news profiles. Major news publications have the burden to ensure the information they release is truthful and accurate. News sources are also famous for printing a retraction in the case of false information being released by the news source. Retractions are printed to gain (or regain) the trust of followers. News sources are known for tracking down sources to verify the authenticity of the information. Un-truthful information can be spread purposely or accidental. Un-truthful information that is spread purposely can be done as a satire or to instigate an emotional response.  Un-truthful information is also spread un-purposely by the thousands of users of social media. Social media users can share information or spread the information that shows up on their news feed without checking to ensure the information is accurate and truthful. Recent studies have shown that an estimated 59 percent of social media users will share information without actually reading an article, but will share information based on the title alone. An opinion can be disguised dangerously or spread as truthful when it is solely the opinion of the writer or speaker.

Social media has the power to affect a social change on society. Social media has allowed thousands of people, if not millions, to have a voice and spread the information that the user feels is relevant and important. Unfortunately, a side effect of giving so many people a voice is the spread of false information disguised as truth. Information passed by social media can change the belief of an individual or a group. In our most recent Presidential election, both candidates had a very strong social media presence. While Hillary Clinton has decreased her presence after losing the election, President-elect Donald Trump has maintained his strong presence in social media to share information that he feels that users should be aware of. Most recently President-elect Trump has “tweeted” about the cost of the new Air Force One. This single tweet caused a backlash and stock price drop against Boeing whom is the airplane manufacture.  Regardless of how you feel about the election, the use of social media helped propel Donald Trump forward in his journey to the White House.

On September 10, 2016, Hillary Clinton uttered the phrase “basket of deplorables” in reference to half of Donald Trump’s supporters. This use of this phrase would not weaken the support for Trump, but would ultimately grow it. Donald Trump and his “basket of deplorables” took to social media to spread the word that Trump supporters, or spouses in split party households, are viewed as dumb, ignorant, racist, sexist, etc. Trump and the Republican party used social media to spread an opinion, under the banner of un-truthful information, but spread as the truthful statement made by a party-opponent. In a press conference after the election, Hillary Clinton stated “that fake news can have real world consequences” and condones fake news as “a danger that must be addressed and addressed quickly.” News has a danger of spreading through social media as quickly as the push of a button.

Today, social media does the work of providing news worthy information to the user. Information appears based on the social media user friends sharing the information; or by who the user chooses to receive information from. Truthful or un-truthful information appears on the social media user news feed with or without consent of the user. Sources can pay for priority spots to be viewed on social media as well. Social media has effectively changed the way that the new generation of society gains access to newsworthy information from reliable and un-reliable sources. Gone are the days of waiting to hear, read, or see a news story in the daily paper or tv news program. Social media makes access to information available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The future of social media is uncertain. Although, it is safe to assume that social media is not going anywhere; in fact, it is always growing with new users across the globe. Social media is a billion-dollar industry in our current society. This billion-dollar industry provides a security blanket to users who voice an opinion through the use of a keyboard. While it is not possible to control the information that is presented through social media, it is possible to be diligent before spreading information. A social media user should read the articles, watch the videos, but remember that the information presented may be part of the truth, un-truthful, or strictly an opinion of another. Social media is now an effective social change system in our society today.

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