The Post Ed­i­to­ri­als The state of so­cial me­dia is on all of us

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE -

Twit­ter and Face­book have be­come the weapons of choice in dirty pol­i­tics. With all man­ner of posts, which are too fre­quently anony­mous, eas­ily mis­lead­ing, and trans­mit­ted faster than a com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease, ac­tivist users of so­cial me­dia have ir­re­vo­ca­bly de­graded the po­lit­i­cal game, which was never all that clean to be­gin with.

By now we are all keenly aware that jour­nal­ists, once the gate­keep­ers, and slaves to the facts, have been sup­planted by any­one who proves ca­pa­ble of us­ing a so­cial me­dia channel. But be­cause any of us now can be­come brand names and trusted sources, all of us now share the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of tra­di­tional news­rooms. Wel­come to the club.

For so­cial me­dia has thrown open the flood­gates. The pow­er­ful tool of mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion, once closely held by a few me­dia out­lets, is now in the hands of any­one who can build a fol­low­ing — a fairly low bar­rier to en­try to what was once a mar­ket held by mil­lion­aires.

How to im­part the weight of re­spon­si­bil­ity jour­nal­ists hold so closely — the ab­ject dread of a cor­rec­tion, or fear of do­ing more harm than good — to our coun­ter­parts with Twit­ter ac­counts?

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the Amer­i­can Press In­sti­tute and the As­so­ci­ated Press Cen­ter for Pub­lic Af­fairs Re­search at the Univer­sity of Chicago, it mat­ters less who cre­ated the con­tent than who shared it on so­cial me­dia.

The story could be from The Den­ver Post or Den­ver Guardian (a fake news site) as long as the link comes from a trusted han­dle: @Oprah (36 mil­lion fol­low­ers), @SenJohnMcCain (2.23 mil­lion fol­low­ers), or @Pon­tifex (10.5 mil­lion).

The good folks at The Me­dia In­sight Project put this to the test by pre­sent­ing tweets from a va­ri­ety of user­names for the same con­tent. It made no dif­fer­ence whether the link in the tweet went to The Big Story by the As­so­ci­ated Press or to a non-ex­is­tent Dai­lyNewsRe­view.com, as long as the reader “trusted” the tweeter.

That is si­mul­ta­ne­ously good and bad news.

For ex­am­ple @nytimes has al­most as many fol­low­ers as @Oprah — al­most. Those of us, who truly be­lieve jour­nal­ists strive to be im­par­tial ar­biters of good pub­lic pol­icy re­gard­less of pol­i­tics, pray tweets from or­ga­ni­za­tions like @den­ver­post carry at least the weight of celebri­ties and ath­letes.

But the bad news is the pres­i­dent of the United States, who has amassed 26.9 mil­lion fol­low­ers, doesn’t seem be­holden to fact, and his han­dle now car­ries the weight of what should be the most trusted source of in­for­ma­tion on earth.

If the Me­dia In­sight Project tells us any­thing, it’s that the bur­den that once rested on the shoul­ders of jour­nal­ists to get the facts right and min­i­mize harm, now rests on the shoul­ders of ev­ery­one with a so­cial me­dia ac­count. The de­ci­sion to share, to retweet and pro­mote should be a weighty one for news out­lets, the rich and fa­mous, politi­cians, and ev­ery­one else, too.

We can’t undo this cre­ation of so­cial me­dia, nor should we shy away from some­thing that is such an amaz­ing tool of in­for­ma­tion dis­sem­i­na­tion, mo­bi­liza­tion and con­nec­tion.

But with the shared power of so­cial me­dia comes the shared re­spon­si­bil­ity of be­ing a source for news and in­for­ma­tion. We call for ev­ery­one to ex­er­cise more care on this plat­form, to un­fol­low those who prove dis­rep­utable, de­friend those who waste your time with click bait, and to in­stead re­ward the truth and hard work that shines in other sources.

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