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Social media fake news threatens legitimate press, civility and democracySocial media fake news threatens legitimate press, civility and democracy

Commentary: 'Faceless' nature of social media makes it easier for people to lose sight of reason, civil discourse.

Paul Penner

January 16, 2017

3 Min Read
SOCIAL MEDIA OVERLOAD: Social media started off as a good way to stay in touch with family and friends. It's evolution into an intensely partisan, uncivil platform is downright dangerous.Rawpixel/iStock/Thinkstock

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. If we let them, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and others clamor for our attention every waking hour of the day.

Back in the early days of their creation, it seemed like a good thing. It was and still is a good way to keep in touch with family and close friends.

The newness of social media has worn off. We are currently experiencing not only overload, but also an evolutionary change that is dominating and restructuring everyday activity, and it is not always good.

Social media has become intensely political, partisan and a place for shaming and blaming. Recently, fake news sites on Facebook are the fastest growing medium, and that threatens to destroy not only a good way to connect with people, but also our society and democracy.

How can we fight it and preserve it for the common good?

First, as members of society, we have forgotten how to be civil, even while we disagree. Perhaps it is partly because we are not meeting each other face to face. We are distant and likely do not always know the person on the other end of electronic media. All we see is an icon with a name, and that “hideous slob” disagrees with my opinion!

This “smartphone” in your hand (or mine) isn’t very smart after all. It cannot calm us down and tell us to back off when tensions rise.

Second, we need to relax and read these posts and “listen” to what is written, and then consider whether we understand what the person is trying to communicate. Only then can we make a worthwhile, reasoned, non-threatening response. Or, we can politely end the conversation right there.

Sometimes our ego prevents us from ending gracefully within this context, and we try to get in the last word. And that is what gets us into trouble. Our conversation degrades into personal insults, and sometimes even worse. We do not want to walk away.

We need to pick our battles carefully, saving energy for the truly important moments that may come along.

Third, we must be more vigilant in vetting the sources of news showing up on our daily feed. Not every story is true, even if it contains bits and pieces of the truth. Read many news sources, even the ones we dislike, and we gain greater perspective and appreciation for the real story.

Taken from numerous observed conversations over the past year, the following paraphrased conversation highlights the difficulty of maintaining a civil conversation between two individuals that disagree on which organization is the best source for news:

“CNN is the link for this story. Did you know that?”

“Yes. They are great.”

“Liberal rag. Not credible. Fox News tells it like it is. And Limbaugh really gets it.”

“Ha! Ultraconservative. Limbaugh’s clueless. He’s a huge talking head!”

“Brietbart! Now there’s a good one!”

“Oh, give me a break! Fake news site!”

“Mediamatters is definitely for bleeding hearts.”

“At least they tell the truth. What about the traditional networks? They are credible.”

“You must be driving a welfare Cadillac. And CBS, NBC and ABC are all pieces of liberal fluff.”

“So, who then in your obviously deficiently learned opinion is a credible source?”

“Since when did you fall for this liberal stuff?”


“Obama lover!”

“Putin man!”

Is it too late to restore the perceived lack of credibility of our country’s Fourth Estate? What are the consequences to our nation if we do not have access to reliable, credible journalism that ensures accountability among our nation’s elected leaders and keeps the citizenry informed?

I leave these questions unanswered, challenging the reader to think about them and, hopefully, participate in a movement of restoring faith in our democracy and our cherished civil rights.

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