Stumbling the information highway

Why social media should not be your primary news source

I consistently ask myself, “What am I even using Facebook for?”

Despite the multitude of websites, communities and news outlets that are available at my fingertips, I keep falling to social media outlets for my news.

I don’t want to debate the pros and cons of Facebook as a whole, but I do want to address something I think has become more and more apparent to us all: For many, Facebook and other social media outlets are becoming our primary news sources.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting world news from social media outlets because it can definitely be a handy way of finding out critical breaking news. It also keeps you in the loop of news that’s relevant to your areas of interest. However, having it as your primary source for news is a terrible idea.

The primary reason is pretty obvious: clickbait, or rather clickbait-y headlines. I’m not talking about the “AMAZING: HOW I MAKE $300 A DAY WILL SURPRISE YOU?!” type of headlines as much as the (somewhat) more subtle but equally concerning titles. You know the ones: “Breaking: Nike Just Released A Statement and It’s Bad” (courtesy of Red State Watcher) or “Coke’s Superbowl Ad Just Taught Trump A Huge Lesson About America” (Occupy Democrats).

As amusing as these headlines and articles can be, they don’t help us a lot, beyond allowing self-confirmation for our own biases. I see these articles—I’ve even shared them—and we’re not doing ourselves any good.

We like them, share them and follow them. Pretty soon they become one of our top ways of finding out what is going on in the world, sometimes without us even consciously realizing.

I’m not saying that social media should or shouldn’t be a political place, or that social media alone is guilty in terms of being a political time waster. Instead I want to remind everyone that in this social media-focused time, our time and attention is more valuable than ever, and for that reason we should streamline what we consume.

With such a plethora of information out there, it’s easy to get results for anything we search for. There are a lot of terrible websites out there spouting a lot of garbage. When it comes to consuming news, we should use just that—news—not a social media page that distributes clickbait, not a self-proclaimed “alternative” news website, not YouTube videos, and absolutely not from conspiracy theorist websites.

More than ever, we need to be aware of what we consume and how that shapes how we approach information and vice versa. For this reason, I have actively been trying to return to more print-based mediums like newspapers this year.

The internet can be a black hole. Cable news suffers from being repetitive and hyperbolic because of the 24-hour news cycle they’ve trapped themselves in.

While it is somewhat quaint reading words on paper, it also encourages self-control. Newspapers can try their best to be impartial and get different perspectives. I have personally found their biases easier to recognize.

I’m able to read their articles with this in mind, without a burning desire to write a comment, send it to someone or leave an emoticon review of their work. If the paper does a bad job or misreports, we can address that in a letter to the editor—something a major news network typically won’t do and would definitely seem meaningless in a sea of toxic comments.

It’s 2017, and how we access information has changed. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the newest way is the best.