Not everything you read is #facts. Time to weed out the noise and call out friends promoting misguided content

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| November 19 2015,

02:00 am

At worst, faux news clouds our judgment, muddies our narrative, and incites and elicits emotional responses inappropriate for the time. Posting content without exploring or sharing context can cause confusion and fear as seen here:

Although faux news is not new to social media, the implication of this growing trend in today’s delicate social stratosphere is dire.

Why do we have so much content to begin with?

We are inundated with content for a number of reasons:

1. Content is the newest way to sell.

Simply put, we have access to a lot more information because capitalism has morphed; just telling someone to buy something no longer works. We are informed and picky consumers. As such, huge volumes of content are being churned out by news and media sites, companies, organizations, institutions, and bloggers as a way to educate the market and gain a competitive edge in marketing.

2. We all have something to say and a story to tell, and rightly so.

On an individual level, we are cranking out content — or what is to us, just sharing our lives and stories — at an astronomical rate. Let’s look at the numbers for just Facebook: in 2012, Mashable reported that we shared 684,478 pieces of content a minute. In 2014, we shared 2.5 million pieces of content a minute. This is crazy and the numbers are not yet in for 2015!

3. We have so many mediums on which to tell and share our stories.

We have an unprecedented number of platforms on which to create and share content and they increase exponentially each year. Take this year’s new kids on the block, Medium and Periscope, which have taken the market by storm.

4. We have become content promoters.

In the age of self-branding and promotion, i.e., the Startup of Me, we have no choice but to promote our ideals, beliefs, and interests. For the entrepreneurial or those who specialize in niche consultancy areas such as financial planning or marketing, there is even more pressure for self-promotion. We are taught to brand ourselves with content, hence cluttering our feed with things mildly pertinent to our industry.

Content in of itself is great.

I am not complaining about the data explosion. When I dropped out of my MBA/MPA program this year, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of FREE information I could access once I knew what I was searching for. I learned the basics of my trade through FREE guides and FREE online classes, and then honed my skills by subscribing and listening to experts on Periscope and podcasts. I also followed influencers in my industry on all of their social media channels. I could not have gained such access or wealth of information five years ago.  

But while free, we pay in many other ways.

As the cliché goes, too much of everything is bad. Data explosion comes with a price. One downside is that we have the power to create content that causes fear and commotion, perhaps unnecessarily. At times, sharing content without context undermines our efforts and values.

As a friend argued, because many schools no longer teach research as a subject in of itself, we forget to do our due diligence on the information we come across.

For example, we get our news mostly from what trends on social media. Yet, trending news on social media is weird. The topics that trend are not necessarily today’s top stories. Rather, any topic being shared widely is considered relevant. As such, content is time warped — we see archived content and breaking news rolling in 120 characters simultaneously through our timelines. There is no clear delineation between old and new content. Because of the sheer abundance of information we are exposed to, even the most diligent have some difficulty sifting through current, relevant and important information from the noise.

So what can we do?

Well, share like a G.

1. Work on yourself: As a dean once told me, do your research. At the very least, skim what you post. Look at the date and source of the content you share. Is it a satire? Is it from The Onion? Do not become a content promotion machine, churning out articles by the tons for people to read. Rather, select a few quality pieces and add value to our network by providing commentary on why it may be worth their while and what to look for as they read.

2. Call people out: Have family members or friends been posting outdated content without context? Call them out. You have a moral responsibility to do so. 

3. Call out anyone posting or sharing content without context if their content can incite hate, fear, anger, sadness, or might mislead without clarification. It is not so much what is shared as it is providing appropriate context and frame.

For example, in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, those who shared their sentiments around the lack of media attention and solidarity for victims of the terror attacks in Nigeria and Kenya earlier this year made a powerful statement on the way media and technology shapes the global narrative on who we mourn and when.       

But widely sharing months-old articles of the attacks in Kenya and Nigeria without sharing context or message (as in the image below), as many people did, was irresponsible. As the content went viral, many assumed and believed these terrorist attacks had JUST happened. It caused even more fear and panic, and muddied the powerful argument on disproportionate media coverage on the terror against marginalized peoples.

4. If you must call people out, be cool and witty. Don't make a statement but rather, ask a question. No one made you the content police, so you might be told to take a seat. But that’s cool; park your words first, then leave.

5. It's not your job to call people out. You might not want to. And you definitely don't need to all the time. Many times, sharing outdated content is harmless. Sharing outdated content is a reflection of where people are in their lives as in this final example from a post on November 16th, 2015:

As I know the story behind this post, I will share: a young woman saw this article on Chinua Achebe’s death, felt moved by it, and shared it with the comment: “Rest in peace, may your stories carry on for generations to come.” Her cousin shared this with me because she was concerned about the resurfacing of this news as we had discussed Achebe’s death in 2013. The news of Chinua Achebe’s death was also trending on my feed. A resurfacing of this article without context led some to believe that he had just died.

But while weird, this content trend was generally harmless and perhaps not that irrelevant as November 16th is the birthday of the late literary giant. Death and commemoration of birth can be harmless.

So what did my friend do? She informed her cousin that Achebe died in 2013. But she did not call out acquaintances and I did not call out those posting the news on my timeline. We accept that people come to things at their own time and in the context of the happenings in their own lives.