The Fake News Effect

The Fake News Effect

“We accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that.” – The Truman Show

Social and political polarization is at an all-time high. Conspiracy theories, strong opinions, and stereotyping are taking over social media channels. I don’t point this out to scare you, but it is so important that we are well-informed, especially when it comes to what we are consuming online.

Earlier this fall, Netflix released a documentary called The Social Dilemma. It is full of eye-opening interviews about how social media and sites like Facebook, YouTube, Google, Twitter and others can manipulate users to stay engaged on the site so they can make money. It shares the dark side of the internet, but it is not something that is brand new.

One of the main problems that The Social Dilemma discusses is the danger of “fake news”. They quote an MIT study that found fake news on Twitter spreads six times faster than true news.

Think about that! Six times!

How are we (or our teenagers) supposed to know what is reality when false information is spreading at a much faster rate?

These social media platforms have algorithms that target users and often times put them in an echo chamber so that they will continue coming back to the site. As you scroll through your feed, you might think, “How can they believe that? Don’t they see the facts? Don’t they see the information I am seeing?” But they don’t. Their feed looks drastically different than yours.

The algorithm could set off a chain of events like this:

  • You like a friend’s post about their trip to Disney World
  • A video pops up about the top 10 attractions at Disney World
  • You go down a rabbit hole of watching families take surprise Disney trips
  • A Disney Vacation group is recommended
  • Events coming up at Disney start popping up on your feed
  • You see ads for Disney travel agents, plane tickets, and Disney hotels

And it goes on and on…

This is a light-hearted example of how social media can take you down a path where you find yourself on a plane to Florida for a week-long vacation at Disney World. But it can also manipulate your thoughts on COVID-19, the election, and more. It can quickly give information you agree with and polarize you from others who maybe weren’t originally that different from you.

The Social Dilemma said, “We have less and less control over who we are and what we really believe.”

This can have devastating consequences when we start sharing news sources that haven’t been checked, or when we share information that is false or exaggerated. It is so important that we do a “Fake News Check” when we are going down our rabbit holes online. Here are a few things that you might find helpful as you try to navigate what is fake vs. reality:

Check your source.
Remember your old research paper days when you had to cite sources? Channel your favorite English teacher and start digging into the content you see on social media. Before you share or like a post, ask some of these questions: Is this source credible? Is it unbiased and backed by evidence? Is it current? Does it properly cite quotes and research?

There is so much information on the internet. It is easier than ever to find an article or story that backs your beliefs, but is it accurate? Is it reality or are you falling into the fake news trap? Checking your sources is a great place to start!

Follow different voices.
When you are scrolling through social media, do you see the same opinion over and over again? Does everyone you follow look and sound like you? Especially lately, it has been so tempting to unfollow and unfriend people who hold different opinions than me. There are definitely times where it is healthy to unfollow toxic accounts, but I would encourage you to make sure you are reading posts that might challenge your worldview – it is vital for growth and empathy!

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get caught in an echo chamber where I am not open to the thoughts and experiences of others. Be intentional about who you follow and how you can grow.

Start conversations.
When you start to go down that rabbit hole, talk to someone. When you are getting worked up because of what you are seeing in your Facebook feed, run it by someone else. When you are overwhelmed, set up some boundaries. Just being aware of the fake news trap is a good defense, but make sure you are surrounding yourself with people who will hold you accountable and engage in positive discussions. This is especially important for teenagers!

Here are some discussion questions that you can use to start a conversation with your teen or other loved ones about social media:

  • What are you seeing on social media this week? What have you been watching? What have you disagreed with?
  • Are there any boundaries that could help you manage social media and friends better? How can I help you with that?
  • What are some negative things about social media that you don’t enjoy? What is a positive thing about social media?

Social media isn’t going away anytime soon. But there are things that we can do to stop the spread of Fake News. There are boundaries that we can set to limit its influence in our lives. It’s time to start talking about it so we can take control back! Sit down with your teen, your spouse, your friend and start a conversation this week.

*If you want to see more posts on The Social Dilemma, head over to our Teen Life Impact Facebook Group. It is a group for adults to find support and resources. We promise to check our sources 😉

Karlie Duke

Karlie Duke

Marketing & Development Director

Karlie was in one of Teen Life’s original support groups and now is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories. She has gained experience working with teenagers through work, volunteer, and personal opportunities.

Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

Disconnected in an Overly Connected World

The distractions in our lives are overwhelming. We are constantly attempting to keep up with the whole world and our own lives, which often leads to us feeling like failures. It is IMPOSSIBLE to stay connected IRL (in real life) when we are connected online 24/7. We have phones, tablets, computers, gaming systems, all loaded down with apps to keep us from having to interact with an actual person. The lack of connections we feel IRL often leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
 

There are three major areas that have been connected to why people have become disconnected IRL:

  1. Social Media lies to us. Constantly. Friends post pictures of achievements. Photoshopped Instagrams make us feel ugly. Snapchats of being happy with a significant other can make us feel lonely. Picture perfect families and homes that are posted make us feel lesser than. Teens and adults alike fall into the trap of the lies that we all share online. Teens are constantly racing to stay popular online with the most likes, re-Tweets, shares, followers, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to keep up with the ever-changing status quo of the online world. Attempting to keep up with social media lies can make teens feel depressed or withdrawn from the people who support them.
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  3. Information overload. Having a constant stream of information easily accessed from literally the entire world is unhealthy and is often depressing. I personally have quit following news on my social media accounts because it would ruin my day constantly seeing the heart breaking stories of death, bombs, natural disasters, etc. Teens are not only dealing with their daily interactions, but the lies of social media, and the often negative news. Attempting to process information that is a) unnecessary to our everyday lives and b) may or may not be accurate information is overwhelming, which can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety. We all need to take a break from the negative overload of information forced fed to us on our social media accounts.
  4.  

  5. Followers Friends. Researchers have found that there is a negative emotional connection between how many online friends we have versus our real life happiness. What does that mean? It means that when a person becomes more obsessed with how many friends they have online, the less happy they are in real life, especially for teens and young adults. This complete obsession with social media followers leads to real life relationships being lost by the wayside because teens lose the ability to communicate in real life. Not being able to communicate about emotions without emojis is a serious issue that should be addressed and is why educating teens on communication is a core tenet of Teen Life.

 
I have found the best way to combat the depression, anxiety, and loneliness that comes from social media is to disconnect for at least one hour a day. This can be scary, especially for teens who are falling for the lies, being overloaded, and are concerned about followers. Disconnecting from all electronics and all social media for an hour a day can lead to us finding new ways of connecting in real life, recharging our brains to be better able of seeing through the lies, and can help improve our moods.

 

If you want to hear more about this subject, check out this eight minute video that truly highlights what is going on when we have an obsession with our social media.

Shelbie Fowler is currently an intern for Teen Life while completing her Master’s in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.