Dangers of Disinformation: Social Media and Youth

By Sarah Lovely

This past Wednesday, Professor Damian Radcliffe came and presented his research into how the Middle East uses social media. His presentation explained many misconceptions and realities of social media’s role in the Middle East. One point he made was that social media has become the dominant source for news for young people in the Middle East. This was a similarity that I know is true for many youths in the United States as I have learned from research in previous classes, which made me wonder how social media platforms are protecting its youth from the phenomenon that is social media disinformation.

In 2019 social media platforms started to create plans to crack-down on disinformation that ran ramped throughout the 2016 presidential election, specifically political disinformation. In October Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted a thread of tweets that explain their reasoning for no longer allowing for political advertising on Twitter at all. He explained that engagement and reach for political messaging should not be bought, but it should be earned by the message itself, which is why the brand no longer felt comfortable offering this on their platform. And many people agreed with this decision, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who quote-tweeted the original tweet stating that it was the responsibility for social media to not allow for this kind of disinformation to continue to affect the lives and elections of Americans.

However, not all social media platforms have gotten this praise from Ocasio-Cortez, because not all social platforms have taken Twitter’s stance on disinformation on their sites. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was actually forced to answer why his site continues to allow the harmful spread of disinformation in a hearing for the House Financial Services Committee in 2019. His answers specifically to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was chilling as she asked if she would be able to post blatant lies on Facebook about political issues without intervention, and he stated yes. Zuckerberg explained that he does not feel that Facebook should not have the power to reprimand political ads that are lies because it is not an official source of news. Leaving it completely open to politicians to post any information they want on Facebook regardless of its truth and consumers vulnerable to the disinformation.

A survey by Common Sense Media found that 54% of teenagers are getting their news from social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Therefore, if the world’s youth is watching, the news being portrayed on these sites needs to be news that can be trusted. Even further, because the teenagers of today become the voters of tomorrow it is vital to understand how social media platforms are changing their practices to protect its younger users from disinformation and which sites can’t be trusted.

Twitter: @_lovely_sarah

This Article Has 11 Comments
  1. Kyra Lindsay says:

    I really enjoyed your insight. I also liked your point about political posts needing to be earned. Having targeted ads can be dangerous especially with influential information such as politics.

  2. Cassidy Stevens says:

    Thanks Sarah. The prevention of the spread of untrue information is crucial in society today because of how accessible it is to the youth. I think we forget how much the younger generations are exposed to especially when it comes to false information and news. I do think it’s a tricky area though because of free speech. How far can regulation go without harming the freedom of speech? I like how Twitter specifically targets political organizations or campaigns rather than just individual people which would be much harder to control.

  3. Molly Kavanaugh says:

    This was a great post, and something that is so important to consider when using social media today. I found it interesting to see which sites have and have not taken steps towards decreasing disinformation on their sites. Because disinformation is so prevalent on social media, we must make it known among those with access to less information, such as our youth, to ensure that media sources are trustworthy.

  4. Katie Zurbrick says:

    Twitter has been pushing for more strict authentication around politics for sure, but they haven’t been doing such a good job of it.

    For example, there’s a republican candidate from Rhode Island, Andrew Walz, who recently was verified on twitter with the signature blue check. Great! That means his account can reasonably be trusted as a credible source of info for his campaign.

    Only problem, Andrew Walz is not a politician. In fact, he doesn’t exist at all. His account was run by a bored 17 year old high school student from New York because he was “bored” over winter break and wanted to highlight how bad twitter’s verification efforts really are.
    (https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/28/tech/fake-twitter-candidate-2020)

    So, yes. Great post and I do think there is a burden on social media starts to start better vetting sources of information, but they have to be genuine about it. Also, where does misinformation start to tiptoe along the line of free speech? It’s a sticky situation for sure.

  5. Chad Orras says:

    This is a really insightful post and brings up a lot of issues when it comes to the validity of information on different social channels. Facebook has been one that has been really interesting to watch. With the idea that Facebook will not do much of anything to control the accuracy of information shows how much misinformation exists. With a lot of people using this as the truth, it is interesting how this boils over into elections. People have become easily convinced by what family members post and share without checking sources. The question then becomes how long before something serious happens and people can’t get the right information? Especially with older generations, not understanding “clickbait” or any other disinformation, it is extremely difficult to decipher the truth without knowing where to look for accurate sources on the matter.

  6. Brandon Hargrave says:

    Teens getting their information from social media is terrifying. Over the last couple of days the amount of information that has been shared about the COVID-19 virus is alarming but we have people that are trying to relay information that they heard from people that are not experts in the field. This morning a friend shared a message from a friend that lives in Italy to the group chat to get our thoughts. Someone else in the group chat had seen the same message posted on facebook and looked to trace the source of the post to no avail. While social media can be a great place for information its important to realize that you have to be willing to fact check and never be content or think that you know something based off the first tweet you read.

  7. Anushka Pawashe says:

    This is a really important topic and I’m really glass someone wrote about it! It’s actually really scary to think about how younger kids now days get there news from social media. While i do think that getting news from Twitter is that bad because of how immediate, Facebook is a whole nother story. I think social media companies have a responsibility to change the way they monitor and manage their programs because even thought social media is not intended to be used this way, that isn’t stopping people from using it this way.

  8. Brea Bechelli says:

    This is a great topic! Fake news and disinformation is something so prevalent on social media, it is. hard to know what is being posted is actually truthful. I get all my news from social media and to think what I am reading could be fake is scary, especially when it comes to politics. Social media platforms should come up with a system to filter out disinformation and fake news.

  9. Kyra Flynn says:

    This topic is very important, especially now that many consumers, specifically those who are younger, rely on social media platforms to get their news since it is ultimately the easier route. The spread of false information is a problem that should not be taken lightly as it has the power to heavily influence campaigns and elections.

  10. Taylor Lancaster says:

    I think this post makes a valid point. Disinformation is a huge issue on some social media platforms and younger generations do tend to get all of their information on social media. I also do appreciate how Twitter has reacted in response to these ongoing issues. However, I also do think it can be a little bit tricky because of free speech. I think it could be argued that while social media platforms should implement ways to filter false advertisements, it is also our responsibility to a certain degree to determine what is credible and what is not.

  11. Tylar Blansett says:

    Hi Sarah,

    Fake news on social media has been a problem more in the past few years then normal. Like you said in your blog post, the younger generation will be more likely to look a social media platforms for their news and the information that would pertain to their every day life. Younger generations may have a tougher time ciphering out the disinformation and finding the real news. They will have to be taught to know credible sources on social media.

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