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Is Facebook Losing the Trust of the Online News Consumer?

Illustration by Dave Simonds

News Analysis by Mindup Lama and Alex Gonzalez

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is probably not going to “like” this post. (But Elizabeth Warren, who’s been sparring with him lately, may give it a thumbs up.)

Why? Because we’re here to analyze coverage of a major new poll that delivers some bad news for Facebook’s public image. Facebook is the dominant social media platform, where 52 percent of U.S. adults get their news regularly.  According to responses tabulated by the Pew Research Center, a significant portion of those adults currently believe that while Facebook is undeniably a major force in news delivery, it’s not necessarily trustworthy as a source of unbiased news transmission. 

An article in Social Media Today, called “New Study Finds Consumers are Concerned About the Influence of Social Media on News Coverage” by Andrew Hutchinson, outlines the Pew Research findings and the original study.

The two major concerns the poll focuses on are one-sided news and inaccurate news on social media. According to the survey, 53 percent of respondents believe one-sided news is a “very big problem,” while 51 percent say the same for inaccurate news. An example of this kind of content is the 2018 story, “Lottery winner arrested for dumping $200,000 of manure on ex-boss’ lawn,” posted by World News Daily Report. It went viral on Facebook with nearly 2.4 million interactions even though the story turned out to be false. 

It is always a challenge to distinguish verifiable, independent and accountable news providers from purveyors of so-called “fake news.” But the collateral damage of false news is far deeper than one can easily see, especially on social media. Facebook users are often targeted by and falling victim to propaganda, micro-specific advertising and political messaging.

The takeaway: Who truly has the final say when it comes to news that travels via social media? The consumer. Skepticism should be dogma. (And the tools of News Literacy are the best means of making that healthy skepticism your default response.) The internet provides a medium that facilitates not only obtaining news, but fabricating and controlling it. Facebook, and other platforms, create a discernible inorganic news flow that is far more polarized compared to content produced by reputable news organizations. However, there is still hope, as suggested by the results of survey. The majority of people who frequent these social media sites are aware of the control the platforms exercise. If they use News Literacy to act on that skepticism, the problem will be more manageable. The means of verification lie within the audience’s reach–if they get the training and incentive to apply it to their news intake, especially when using social media.