Online skepticism is pretty common - or so you would think. Remember when our parents used to tell us not to take candy from strangers (with the exception of Halloween, of course). Yeah, now we tell kids not to believe everything they read online. And yet, we do it. All. the. Time! We read something once, and it becomes gospel. Someone shares something and it's trending by the end of the day. So it must be true!
With endless sources of information and people pushing content into the blogosphere at lightning speed, how do we know what's true? Who can we really trust on social media?
I'd like to say we can trust our friends and family. But, let's face it, most of the time, they're the worst offenders for sharing bogus information.
And, unfortunately, it seems like this topic is more and more important these days.
Personally, you may have seen me lose my $hi# over on Instagram this past week when horribly wrong information was shared about a "new" Instagram algorithm. One post from one random woman was all it took to send the entire artist community on Instagram into a complete tailspin. Even rational people who thought it was suspicious, started believing it, because everyone was talking about it and sharing it and claiming it as truth. Bigger names in the space jumped on the hype bandwagon and that was all it took for it to spread as absolute truth.
They all believed it. Why? It came from someone within their community so there was inherent trust. There were a couple "accurate" (essentially) points - enough to make it seem like it could be real news. And, then there was basically the peer pressure of acceptance. If everyone else was saying it was true, then it must be true.
Wonderful, well-meaning, rational people all started believing this article to be true. And you really can't blame them. We've all done the same thing more than once.
(Yes, on a side note, I made it my personal mission to discredit the misleading information and share accurate info. Which I did! So there's that 🙂 )
While this limited example is enough to raise the question of trust on social media, it's far from the only one.
You can look at our political landscape (in any country really, but especially here in the US). You can put two reporters in the same room, witnessing the same press conference or whatever and they will come out with two so completely polarizing perspectives that you can't possibly believe they were in the same room together.
You can take a single photo of any situation and completely remove the context surrounding it to manipulate the image to serve the message you want to send. Again, politically, we've seen this more times than I would care to think about.
Something innocent becomes sinister. Something casual becomes catalyzing. A poorly timed photo becomes a meme. It's endless and relentless.
With all of this, Facebook is trying to make an honest effort to clean up the false news sources and untrustworthy sources from your news feed. In a recent announcement (to add to the many we've seen this year already), Mark Zuckerberg stated that he wants "to make sure the news you see, while less overall, is high quality."
They are planning to reduce the amount of "news" you see in your feed. By news, we mean published, public content. Things like blog posts, opinion pieces, news articles, etc. Right now, there is so much sensationalism (according to Zuck himself) and they want to control that by providing you with content that is from more trusted and reputable sources, ensuring that the content you read is more likely to be true.
If you're curious about how Facebook will do this and verify trusted sources, you can read the post he shared. But, basically, they're relying on surveying Facebook users for their level of trust in various publications. So, if you see a survey about this, you may want to fill it out.
First of all, I do applaud this effort. Will the outcome be what they want and will it work? Who knows. But at least they're trying and I give them credit for that.
Second, I find it sadly disappointing that we live in a world where our news has to be vetted for us because, collectively as a community online, we've lost the ability to think for ourselves and do any level of research to verify anything.
I mean, seriously, it's not that hard. If a photo is going around showing Twitter screen shots, go to Twitter and see if those people actually tweeted that or not. If they did, there you go. If they didn't, it's entirely possible that was photoshopped to bait you into sharing their content. This seriously happens at ridiculously common rates. It takes all of about 30 seconds of your life to do this research and it saves you from being the next gullible fool to share completely untrue information.
If you read something about "news" or updates, Google it! If it's really true, there's going to be more than one source talking about it. But, of course, just because more than one publication is talking about it doesn't mean it's true. But at least you can quickly verify if there's any credibility to the story or information. Again, a few seconds of your life to do a little research.
And here's the thing. I respect what Facebook is trying to do. But even the most trusted sources can get stuff wrong. We're all human and make those mistakes. It's inevitable we will all share false info at some point.
So, who can you really trust?
What makes someone trustworthy to me in all of this is how they handle their information.
Do they cite reputable sources? Are they on the front lines as a reputable source of information?
How do they handle misinformation? Do they own up to it and correct it or bury it and try to pretend it didn't happen or wasn't their fault?
Are they open to discussion about the info and evidence one way or another? Or are they steadfast in their convictions and refuse to believe otherwise?
We all have our favorite sources to turn to in any industry or area of interest that matters to us. Those make it easy to trust because you have that foundation already. But be open to questioning them or their content. Don't follow blindly. And be open to new sources of information that may just surprise you along the way.
Oh, and remember that as a business or brand, what you share is a reflection of your brand. Your credibility is based on, not only the content you create, but the content you share from other sources. How you handle these situations and the content you share is going to impact how your audience reacts to you and if they trust you.
That's why I wanted to take a few minutes to write about this topic. It's important for us as individuals to be smart about this. But as businesses, it's even more important, if you ask me.