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Experts warn that rise of social media opens door for spreading falsehoods

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Posted at 7:06 PM, Jan 27, 2021

Every day we are bombarded with information. New technology brings it to us faster than ever before—seldom pausing to separate fact from fiction.

“The question is, are we presenting people with the truth? The facts. Those things that seem to be most crucial and especially for people who are not very critical consumers of what they take in,” says Dr. John Caputo.

Caputo is co-founder of the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media. He’s a former long-time communications professor at Gonzaga University, where he taught media literacy.

“Primarily media has been seen as a one-way megaphone. The reality of that is that social media has kind of changed that and put the megaphone in a lot of people’s hands who don’t care about the truth. In fact, their job is to obfuscate the facts and obfuscate truth or lead down another path so,” says Caputo.

Montana experts warn of dangers of misinformation online

The amount of misinformation being spread on social media is simply staggering—and growing-- with more people getting info and sharing it from unreliable or dubious sources. An analysis from NewsGuard showed unreliable news websites increased their engagements from 8.6 million engagements involving fake news to 16.3 billion last year.

Being able to distinguish real facts and objective journalism from fiction, opinion, and propaganda can be more difficult than ever—and it also may be more important than ever.

“I think it has a destabilizing effect. One of the negative effects is that people just lose trust in institutions," says Dr. Jason Adkins, a political science professor at Montana State University Billings.

Adkins teaches media literacy as a part of a course on American government.

”Where do we look for information, where do we look for reporting? Are we looking for sources that do original reporting or sources that are just opinion based?” Adkins said. “At least we want to give them (students) the info like where can they go to find original reporting that is fact-based instead of some of these conspiracy theories that really aren’t based in reality.”

It’s something that may be more important than ever as we navigate the rising flood of information that surrounds us each day.

“It’s the old journalistic thing. If your mother says you did it, check, double check and see where this is coming from because it could be false information. And we get a lot of false information,” says Caputo.

Q2 and our parent company, Scripps, are shining a light on news literacy this week. You can find valuable tools to help you better fact check as well as quizzes to test your news literacy here:

https://newslit.org/