Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Virtual Newsfeed - Reliable?

One of the glorious things about the social media is the way it can spread news and information. Within seconds events like the death of a celebrity or a big new story can go viral with hundreds, then thousands, then millions of postings on Facebook, Twitter and the like.

I've come to rely on the social media as a primary source of my news. When Judge Walker announced his ruling regarding the constitutionality of California's Prop 8. I was seeing tweets 45 min. before anything came through "reliable" news channels. I wanted to verify the judges ruling before posting anything myself, and refreshing my browser only brought up more tweets.

There is no question at the speed "information" can be spread using the social media, but what about it's accuracy? It seems to me that 'misinformation' is spread just as easily. When more and more people copy posts, the natural instinct is for a reader to feel more and more confident about its accuracy. And the more people convinced that a 'mistruth' is true, such as the conspiracy theories about the citizenship of Barack Obama, the harder it is to remove that mistruth from popular culture.

Now here's the real kicker. Because social media users surround themselves with people (friends) and things (pages) they 'like,' rather than the general clutter that is 'news,' it's less likely that they will ever hear a contradictory point of view. Remember the health care reform debate a few months ago? Rumors that Fox News celebrity Rush Limbaugh would 'move' to Costa Rica were rampant and I joined my friends in wishing him bon voyage. My dear friend Janet told me that Limbaugh was being misquoted. When I investigated, I found that she was correct and that indeed Limbaugh had not stated that he would move, but rather that he might be seeking health care in a foreign nation in five years.

Solution: 1) investigate what you read, and especially what you post, and 2) 'friend' some people you don't like so much - you might be surprised about what they can teach you.

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