Verification required: Millennials and social media

By Miranda Larralde

As millennials increasingly turn to social media as a means of keeping up with the news, media professionals wonder what this means for the issue of verification on different online platforms. Tracy Everbach, an associate journalism professor at the University of North Texas, said this increase in social media platform users raises the question of what is true among a sea of opinions and facts.

“A lot of what gets circulated by random people and by bots is false and misleading,” Everbach said. “The news media is so fragmented now that it is difficult for anyone to tell what is real and what is not.”

During News Engagement Day on Oct. 3, a day dedicated to analyzing and improving interactions with the news, 71 percent of students at The University of Texas at Austin said they receive their news from either social media platforms or their smartphones. This data is comparable to the August Pew research study, which found that 67 percent of Americans get at least some of their news on social media.

During her lecture on News Engagement Day, Paula Poindexter, a professor at UT, said she is concerned about the number of postings on social media, which can overwhelm people because it’s too much information and not enough credibility.

“If people don’t have the news literacy knowledge and skills to be able to determine what is legitimate news, what is real news, and what isn’t, then that becomes a threat,” Poindexter said.

Since social media is a platform not only for facts, but also opinions, anyone can have free range on what they want to post, regardless of if it is true or not. The difficulty lays in motivating social media users to verify information on their own.

“Some people just don’t care to deal with that,” Everbach said. “It’s easier to just believe some meme on the internet.”

Some students turn to social media because the priority is not getting their news from a credible news source, but about the ease of accessibility and how quickly they can get their hands on the information. Freshman business major Mia Rho said it’s easier and more convenient to look at her timeline rather than google search on her own for topics.

“I just don’t go out of my way to read up on stuff,” Rho said. “You have to know that [breaking news] goes on, but I don’t go out of my way to read about it.”

Others, like senior sociology major Daniel Aguilar, said using social media as a news source is especially easy today because millennials’ lives are centered around their smartphones.

“I feel like it’s the most accessible, like it’s the most integrated into my day,” Aguilar said.

However, social media as a news platform doesn’t entirely restrict millennials’ ability to verify information. Aguilar said the tweet or post opens the “front door” for users to begin to look deeper if they choose to.

“If there’s something going on [on my social media timeline] that’s specific to my interest, then I’ll look more into it,” Aguilar said.

As millennials turn to online media as sources for news, Poindexter said it is important that we keep in mind that the media’s job is to bring the most accurate information to the public. Once that occurs, it is up to the public to decide what they want to believe.

“What we really need to do is to recognize that social media has become the platform for news,” Poindexter said. “And then, lets just try to make sure that people really understand what is news and what isn’t news.”