How taking responsibility and holding others accountable can help stop the spread of misinformation.
In the summer of 2020, infographics flooded Instagram about the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19 case counts and mental health awareness. It seemed like everyone was voicing their opinions on different subjects and presenting them as ‘factual’ in the form of infographics.
“We’ve seen an increase in their use on social media. They have seen a growth in popularity in the last three to five years,” said Allison Oster, a senior editorial director and social media strategist at Azusa Pacific.
This is potentially a new form of citizen journalism. According to The Cambridge Dictionary, citizen journalism is news stories written by ordinary people instead of trained reporters. However, the difference is that trained reporters are aware of how to cite sources, remove or state bias and fact check while someone making these graphics might not be. Infographics cause a concern for credibility when someone can take data out of context or not understand the responsibility that comes with sharing content.
Rebekah Rhodes, a senior nursing major, voiced concerns about data being taken out of context as it can be interpreted to mean anything. This is dangerous because some people form their opinions in the frame of reference.
“I definitely look to see if there are good sources like the news or the media. For example, if it’s COVID-19, maybe the CDC. I look for straightforward data and not just opinions. It’s awesome that Instagram has become a platform to share information, but it’s a really fine line to see the difference between fact and opinion,” said Rhodes.
The reality is that Instagram itself is a favored platform. People simply don’t take the time to log onto an online website for news consumption. People spend an average of two hours and three minutes a day on social media, according to Digital Marketing. In 2019, users spent only 1% of their screen time on news sites, according to Nieman Lab.
Infographics are a great way of sharing stories as they are fantastic for visual learners that prefer to take in small pieces of information. However, if someone is to take up the call of being a citizen journalist, they must evaluate sources and have a connection to the topic that gives them credibility, according to Oster. Being a citizen journalist is about more than just retweeting something you agree with.
This is an important distinction to make, as everyone has their own platform. Someone must have a connection to the topic itself to have credibility, as without this affiliation the research that is needed to be done to create an infographic might not take place.
There is a responsibility one has as a citizen journalist to fulfill which is to verify the information and cite original sources. Otherwise, the integrity of the story gets lost within everyone’s opinions and hidden agendas.
The difference between a citizen and a journalist is simply that one studied the media extensively while the other did not. However, understanding how the media works is important. According to Pew Research, 23% of people believed that they had spread a fake news story online.
“How do we take control back and share content? How do we take responsibility? These are the questions that will help people trust social media again,” said Oster.
Some see infographics as beneficial as they often go straight to the source, and don’t go through the media itself. For others, this can make infographics more credible.
While Instagram infographics can help individuals gain perspective, they should not replace the news and the integrity that is embedded in the profession. Amongst all the fake news, true journalists work hard to understand how the media works, to be unbiased and to put the truth out. Citizen journalism is an important part of the internet age, but Instagram infographics should not be taken as law. Individuals are responsible to look at other sources, just as they are when it comes to news articles.
“We are telling our story, and we are telling the story we want to tell. We are picking and choosing what we want to put in this. Never take the infographic as the whole story as there could be other pieces of information,” said Oster.
Bias is hard to remove. Therefore, a consumer should be aware of this and realize that infographics should be only a piece of the puzzle. You should refer to other news articles, statistics and sources to verify them, especially before sharing them. Don’t just share infographics because your friend or family member did. Research is imperative to verifying sources.
“I think when understood to be just a part of the conversation and is just an appetizer, it is basically just an opinion. It’s not necessarily like a science article. It can expand your worldview,” said Max Wilson, a senior honors humanities and psychology major.
Infographics should be about expanding your viewpoint and learning. They shouldn’t be taken as immediate fact, and they shouldn’t be the only place you find this news source.
“They are not required to be unbiased. It’s not like these pages are news sources. They are sharing things that are tangible to a wider audience. Most people can look at a source and see that they have political bias pretty clearly,” said Kassandra Galang, a psychology and honors major.
For this reason, consumers need to begin to be critical thinkers and call those out who spread false information. Check for false information and inform people when they might have posted a fake news article. This will allow social media to be a place where authentic stories are told. A place where journalistic integrity is upheld and proper information is spread.