How Can You Consume News Properly in 2020?


News website shown on laptop screen.

By Razina Ahmed, Academics Editor

Any person who has used social media in recent years has likely found the term “fake news” to be a trending topic. It serves as an umbrella term for any sort of untrue or distorted news material such as clickbait titles, tabloids, conspiracy theories, and others. In recent years, however, the spread of citizen journalism, social media, and an increase in cable news and talk radio have contributed to the decline and public distrust in “traditional” journalism. This decline has led to an increase in several misinformation campaigns across the country, so how can one ensure they are consuming their news properly?

According to a poll conducted by Pew Research Center in 2017, it was found that about 36% of Americans received their news from an actual news organization, and about 35% received their news from social media. The limitless amount of information that is conveyed on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat allows for easy access and personalization of news. Phone users, for example, can enable push notifications for organizations or specific areas of coverage they want to see.

For Judith Donath, a fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet Society and the founder of the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Lab, the danger of personalization of news on social media is that it can incite bias. “You get news that is designed to be palatable to you. It feeds into people’s appetite of expecting the news to be entertaining … [and] the desire to have news that’s reinforcing your beliefs, as opposed to teaching you about what’s happening in the world and helping you predict the future better,” Donath said.

So how can one use social media in a way to consume news that allows you to gain multiple perspectives? It is important to note that the personalization of news on these platforms is largely a result of algorithms. News organizations put out information on social media platforms that is truthful and informative. Companies such as Facebook and Google are looking to promote engaging content that is (hopefully) true.

While knowing the extent to which these social media companies can tailor your newsfeed is somewhat alarming, one should remember that most if not all personalization is left up to algorithms alone. According to Elia Powers, an assistant professor of journalism and news media at Towson University in Maryland, “You still need to have an actual human editor looking to make sure that what’s popular isn’t bogus or hurtful,” Powers said.

Being consciously aware that the way you receive news through social media isn’t perfect serves as a reminder that understanding the events in the news means cultivating different perspectives. One way you can be an active news consumer is remembering to read past the headlines. Whether on social media or an actual news organization, if something that you read sounds outrageous and makes you skeptical, it most likely is. In 2016, computer scientists at the French National Institute and Columbia University found that about 59% of links that were shared on social media platforms were never actually clicked.

Arnaud Legout, a research scientist a part of the study, saw the harmful impact this had on news consumption and what people should look to do about it. “People are more willing to share an article than read it; this is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper,” Legout said.

The key is to look past an interesting headline and be willing to ask more questions about what you are reading. Be on the lookout for whether or not the article you are reading or the news channel you are watching supports their commentary with facts (for example, statistics from a reputable institution) to back up their claims and not just opinions.

Lastly, one should also come to terms with the fact that the news organization they follow may fall onto one side of the media bias spectrum. One’s individual bias can influence the type of news they consume, so it is important to not only vary your perspectives but ensure that these organizations follow a clear journalism code of ethics. By improving our media literacy and engaging with different perspectives on different issues, we are able to discuss economic ideas, politics, social issues, and others with more insight. In a world filled with polarization, this has become more important than ever. Arthur Brooks, an American social scientist, shared in a TED Talk a perspective about what would happen if we defeat the current gridlock in our country. “We might just be able to take the ghastly holy war of ideology that we’re suffering under and turn it into a competition of ideas,” Brooks said.