As much as we pretend social media is for worshippers of waist-trainers, Kylie Jenner, and Supreme, it’s also where nearly two-thirds (62%) of American adults get their news. Instead of depending on what one news channel thinks is the most important info of the day, we can navigate a variety of sources and get the stories that big news companies aren’t covering. Still, though getting the news via social media may be fast, easy, and rewarding, there’s also extra precaution that needs to be taken. This past week, news companies and social media users alike scrambled to clarify the truth behind a viral story stating that a dozen black teenage girls had gone missing in twenty-four hours in Washington, D.C. Did this actually happen? Luckily, no. According to the Metropolitan Police Department, there are thirty-two open missing persons cases in Washington, D.C. as of March 29, no dozen of which happened in twenty-four hours. The story did revitalize the conversation on how race factors into the missing persons stories that get publicized, but there’s another conversation that needs to be had. In a world where journalists are splitting the stage with social media users, it’s time to take sharing news on social media way more seriously, and here’s how:
1. Try sharing a factual article before sharing an opinion piece.
When a news story comes out, it’s tempting to let everyone know where we stand on the issue right away. Opinion pieces make this pretty easy to do, and allow us to support individual writers at the same time. However, before they form an opinion, writers have to do research and decipher the facts – and your followers should too. By sharing articles that break down the facts of the story, you’re ensuring that your followers understand the case at hand. Plus, even if you share an opinion article in the hopes that your followers agree, they may disagree just because they have no facts through which to understand the writer’s argument. Facts first, opinion later.
2. Make sure your caption doesn’t contradict what you’re sharing (unless intentionally).
It’s totally normal to get riled up while writing a caption for a news story – especially if you don’t agree with what has happened. Still, make sure you don’t generalize a news story out of anger. Anger can make us spew unsupported facts, even if we don’t mean to. Read over your caption to ensure it aligns with the facts of the story.
3. Be careful what hashtag you use.
Hashtags may seem frivolous, but considering some hashtags have turned into protest movements, they carry a lot of history and weight. Before you add a hashtag to your caption, make sure it aligns with the news story and you agree with what the hashtag represents. Some used the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls in response to the alleged dozen missing girls, but failed to acknowledge that this hashtag also refers to the campaign to find 276 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. In the past, some have used the hashtag #alllivesmatter alongside the hashtag #blacklivesmatter – unaware that #alllivesmatter supporters often oppose those who support the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. Others have used #alllivesmatter to support other issues such as LGBTQ+ rights and support for global victims of terrorism, unaware of its controversy. Sometimes all it takes is a hashtag for a social media post to lose all credibility, so choose one wisely.
4. Be aware of your social media base.
Chances are, in light of Donald Trump’s presidency, it’s no secret which side your followers stand on. If your following is clearly geared towards one side, take note that this will impact what news you’re exposed to. Some anti-Trump followers may share limited news regarding his actions in office, limiting your political news feed. Although it’s nice to know that your followers share your opinion, it’s important to stay alert with the other side of things. Keep up with what is going on outside your social media base. Read articles on sites that lean against your usual stance. They may anger you, but part of reading the news is knowing all sides of the story.
5. Don’t be afraid to share good news.
There are a lot of articles out there calling for changes, but not nearly enough showing when changes occur! As much as we share articles calling for progress in society, we need to spread articles showing when progress actually happens. Did a person of color get cast in a lead that’s never been played by a POC before? Did a company just get its first female CEO? Is a man making moves in a female-dominated field? Unless they are viral stories, a lot of these articles showing social progress can be found in local news publications or smaller websites. Give them the publicity they deserve! Without articles, clips, or pictures showing how progress can occur, calls for progress may go on deaf ears.
This may seem like a lot to take into consideration for 140 characters, but whether we like it or not, we took on this role as social media users to bolster modern journalism. Done without thought, social media can destroy the credibility of journalism, leading people away from articles before they even press the link. By putting more consideration into what we share, how we share it, and why we share it, we can create a news base that’s broader and better.