Friday, October 06, 2017

Rural weekly columnist warns readers of the pitfalls of Facebook, Twitter, other social media

The dangers of "fake news" from social media have been explained often in major news media, but has reported more than once. Some rural journalists are trying to help their audience understand the differences in news media, which practice a discipline of verification, and social or partisan media, which do not.
not so much in rural media, where many publishers and journalists seem to think they are insulated from the problem.

One of those is Mary Jane McKinney, a grammarian and "Plain English" columnist for The Canadian Record in the Texas Panhandle. She writes this week, "Americans blindly trust social media out of ignorance. Now that Congress has forced Facebook and Twitter to divulge the ads purchased by the Russians, our attitude toward social media will be changed forever."

The degree of that change in attitude remains to be seen, but McKinney performs a public service by explaining some of what has been happening: "Facebook users reading the Russian posts on the company's News Feed assumed that the propaganda was legitimate news. . . . Twitter has not been screening who posts on the website. Twitter does not ask for a name, address, phone number or birthday. The design of Twitter also makes it easier for internet robots (bots) to penetrate the system and determine the popularity of a tweet."

McKinney warns,"Our spam filters and firewalls are not fortresses that keep us safe. Bad stuff gets through. Lone-wolf propagandists create fake news." She goes on to explain lone-wolf posters, "troll farms" overseen by the Russian government, and sockpuppets, "false identities created to manipulate public opinion. Sockpuppets are used to skew online polls or defame a person, organization  or policy."

There's a lot more that could be written about fake news on social media, but McKinney's column has limited space. "We'd like to see more rural journalists address this topic and help their readers understand the value of journalism and the need to be skeptical of social media," says Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog. "They need to grasp the difference in news and opinion, and the differences in forms of media."

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