Information travels faster than ever in the age of social media. Something can be on Facebook Live as it’s happening and within hours people around the world may have seen it and already formed their opinions on the matter. When something takes off on social media, it may take off fast and sometimes what’s fast isn’t what’s the most accurate.
Dorothy Bramlage Public Library Director Susan Moyer has been in the information business for many years — long enough to have witnessed the rise of social media — and can speak to both sides of the social media argument.
“I think anybody has a responsibility to be careful about what they post,” she said. “Uncorroborated stories — you see them all over the place on Facebook, right? Somebody will post something and it will immediately press somebody’s outrage button and they’ll share it and comment and what-have-you without even really knowing — is it true? is it a hoax?”
Even those who don’t have access to all the tools of the investigative trade have the ability to exercise some suspension of disbelief, according to Moyer, and they have some responsibility to exercise it.
“There’s that thing called Google,” she said.
A simple Google search isn’t the end-all and be-all of sussing out the truth of a matter, but it can let people know if what an article claims is backed up by other articles on the subject or if other news outlets have even addressed the issue.
“Google it and see if you can find anything that will back it up,” Moyer said.
Moyer advises people to check the credibility of the news outlet that has posted something before taking it at face value.
“If the article you’re looking at is full of (all caps) and exclamation points, you might check the credibility of that source because that’s not usually the way credible journalists write,” she said. “People will pull their news for all different kinds of things. But I think if you’re going to share an article or comment on it, very least you should read that article first.”
Check the date on an article, as well. Make sure it was posted recently.
If something seems fishy, readers can also check Snopes.com, a website dedicated to fact-checking all manner of online assertions and viral sensations.
Another problem of social media arises when people engage in flame wars in the comment sections, something Moyer said she’d seen some news outlets combat by disallowing comments altogether. At times,according to Moyer, people who’ve failed to read and comprehend an article can mislead others who have done the same thing by making misinformed comments on social media.
“It’s kind of interesting on a news source, that there can be pretty good opportunity for a lot of misinformation as offered by the public,” she said.
It’s a conundrum for someone in a profession such as Moyer’s — a career that thrives on freedom of speech and information.
Moyer is not against using social media — she thinks it’s a good way to reach large numbers of people, to make connections, and to keep in touch with friends. The library has a social media presence, which it uses to reach wider audiences.
“It’s really valuable,” Moyer said. “But there’s always a downside.”
Legitimate news outlets of all kinds routinely use social media such as Facebook and Instagram to promote their articles, but she cautions against using it — especially the comment sections — as anything more than what it is.
“Facebook is not a news source,” Moyer said. “It’s kind of like web equivalent of the coffeeshop, where people can chat and talk and say whatever.”
Before sharing something online or posting something that may not be fully accurate, Moyer feels people need to take a deep breath and think hard.
“It’s a good lesson for everybody to hit the pause button,” she said. “Even when you’re angry or what-have you — to hit the pause button, figure it out, look into it, and then go from there. Everybody has that responsibility to figure it out first.”
From Moyer’s perspective as the director of a public library, the way people choose to seek out information is ever-changing even when it remains the same — it fluctuates.
“it’s interesting because people have always gotten information from a wide variety of sources,” she said. “Talking to other people, it’s always been a way that they’ve gotten information. So it’s just kind of a web version of that … There are all kinds of trends out there and that trend for people who are looking at web-based versus print-based, that kind of comes and goes, it ebbs and flows. So we’ve seen a little bit of an upsurge in nonfiction checkout lately.”
According to Moyer, the library combats misinformation by offering access to all kinds of information. The library has classes, routinely, including ones on how to readily spot “fake news.”
This February, the library will offer a class called Journalism 101 at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at the library, in its large meeting room.
“Our role (as a library) really has never been about telling people what they should or shouldn’t read,” Moyer said. “It’s more just to help them. As you’re forming your opinions and beliefs about things, make sure you make sure you have the best info possible. Because there’s some really bad info out there but it’s not unique to the web environment. It’s always existed in print. It’s just now with social media in particular, it’s almost instantaneous and it spreads so quickly. And so it’s hard to reel it back.”