Over my spring break, I went to a political event called “How Journalists and The Public Shape our Democracy.” This political event was held in Gwinnett County at their public library. For those who do not know where Gwinnett County is located, it is in Suwannee, Georgia. Most of the guests that showed up appeared to be of older generations, between their 30s to 50s, but there were a few inspiring journalists who appeared to be in their 20s. There was a good number of people there, given their lack of promotion. For someone like me, who does not live in their county, I had to conduct an intense search before coming across their event. An older guest even mentioned to me she was shocked that I found this event since the only promotion she found was a small paragraph in the newspaper, which was hidden, in her eyes. The event was sponsored by the Georgia Humanities and the Atlanta Press Club. The speakers who hosted this event were Karyn Greer (a CBS46 news anchor), Susanna Capelouto (senior editor at 90.1 FM WABE), and Archith Seshadri (former CNN journalist). One thing that really stuck out to me was when the hosts discussed how the news industry thought that social media would be very beneficial to them, but as time went by it was clear it was not going to be, in fact, they claimed it’s a dangerous weapon that can be used against our democracy.
One of the reasons social media could become a dangerous weapon is because it’s an uncontrolled space. According to Susanna Capelouto, people who decide to become their worst version of themselves can be controlled and checked by other people in a social environment where there’s face to face interaction, but if a person decides to do this on social media there is no one nor anything to stop them, which leads to fake news. Also, since this is an uncontrolled space people can make fake accounts and post fake news. A good example of this is when Russia made fake accounts and started posting fake news about Hilary Clinton. Many people believe that because of this event, a lot of people were persuaded to vote for Donald Trump in the presidential election.
After listening to how social media could be weaponized, I suggest that we create an editing system for social media, which would be similar to the process journalists have to go through before releasing to the public. When people post on social media, there should be a color box around their post, indicating that this post has not been properly vetted. Once a post is verified by a professional, whether that be by a certified editor or journalist, the color of the box around the post would be changed to a different color. Not only would this help prevent fake news, but it would provide more jobs.
Spotting fake news and preventing it was the biggest topic discussed at this political event. Archith Seshadri took the wheel and told the guests to look for pages that have a check mark by their name because that means they’re a real source for information. People without a check mark could be reporting real news, but one would not know until they do some research of their own. Even if a person is posting about an event that one has already seen elsewhere being discussed by journalists or news reporters, one should still research the validity of the post. When conducting research, there are fact-checking sites that one can use, such as washingtononpost.com/news/fact-checker or politifact.com. Seshadri continued to say that the best way to avoid fake news in cases where people post videos of something that’s happening at that very moment is to wait until journalists and news reporters do their job, which is reporting the truth of the situation. Also, when new posts start to occur about this “new event” do not repost a post about this event until research has been conducted since this is how fake news is propagated on the internet.
Since social media has altered the timing of when people receive new information, it has also altered the timing within the news industry; this has risked stories not being reported fully. In the past, news was only reported to the public in morning and evening, allowing news reporters and journalists to have time to find and thoroughly investigate a vital story, whereas news reporters and journalists, as stated by Karyn Greer, have to report the news three times a day, and post on their social media five to seven times a day. There are too many projects and too many deadlines for a news reporter or journalist to find a good story worth reporting. Capelouto and Seshadri agreed with Greer when she said a good story takes time to get. She then suggested that instead of interns doing administrative work, they should find the stories that are supposed to be posted on social media every other hour, while journalists and new reporters search for a big story to report on.
After going to this political event, the way I view social media has changed dramatically. Social media is a great way to stay connected and communicate with loved ones and new people around the world, but it’s imperative that we make sure we are not being subjected to fake news and that our democracy does not deteriorate.