Commentary

News On Social Media Isn't Helping To Stop Misinformation

The Capitol Hill riot is turning into a watershed moment for the news outlets as they examine the role of social media in spreading misinformation that led to the mob attack. The scrutiny of social media is worthwhile, considering that many Americans say they get their news from apps like Facebook and YouTube -- and quite a few people are confused by what they see.

About half (53%) of U.S. adults said they get their news from social media at least some of the time, with 23% saying they "often" see news on the platforms, according to a survey by Pew Research Center. Facebook is the biggest social-media source for news, with 36% of people saying they regularly get their news on the platform.

Only 15% of Americans say they regularly get their news from Twitter, which is surprising. The micro-blogging app has had an out-sized effect on the news cycle as the favored platform for President Trump. While Twitter received invaluable publicity, it also had to contend with controversial statements from Trump.

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Twitter last year started placing warning labels on his posts, including tweets that smeared MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and a message suggesting protestors in Minneapolis could be shot for looting. After losing the election, Trump used Twitter to spout unproven election-fraud claims, urge supporters to protest the outcome and taunt the media, political rivals and even members of his own party.

The Capitol Hill rioting by a pro-Trump mob was the last straw, as Twitter temporarily suspended the president from posting messages, before banning him entirely because of the risk of further inciting violence. Facebook also suspended Trump's account, and later extended the ban indefinitely.

With a following of 88 million people on Twitter -- assuming those followers weren't bots -- Trump had a bigger audience on the platform than most individual news organizations, many of which amplified his messages in their reporting.

Interestingly, Pew found that many Americans said news on social media was less likely to help them understand current events than in the past. Almost one-quarter (23%) of respondents last year said news on social networks made them more confused, up from 15% in the prior two years.

The finding suggests that in the effort to quell misinformation, news on social media isn't helping.

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