UMN Expert: News in the age of social media

Benjamin Toff (left) and Panayiota Kendeou (right)

Benjamin Toff (left) and Panayiota Kendeou (right)

The Pew Research Center recently released data revealing that about 68 percent of American adults say that they—at least occasionally—get their news on social media; however, 57 percent of them expect the news they see on social media to be largely inaccurate.

University of Minnesota experts Benjamin Toff, with the Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Panayiota Kendeou, with the College of Education and Human Development, weigh in on the issues the reliance on social media for news consumption presents and the need to better educate young students in identifying misinformation.

Benjamin Toff, PhD
“People around the world are increasingly reliant on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to discover news and stay informed about the world around them. This presents numerous challenges for conventional news organizations, the public and the platform companies themselves.

“For news organizations who are struggling to cultivate and build relationships with younger news audiences, it means intense competition for clicks and attention, which can be threatening to their very survival. For the public, it means learning to navigate a new media landscape where the news ‘finds them’ rather than the other way around, requiring ever-changing skills around media literacy to sort out what’s factual and reliable from misinformation meant to deceive. For the social media platform companies, which never intended to serve as people’s primary sources for news about civic and political affairs, it increasingly means grappling with the editorial responsibilities such a role entails.”

Benjamin Toff, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He studies the political implications of changing media, including how and why people consume and avoid news and its relationship to matters of trust and civic engagement.

Contact information:
Benjamin Toff
612-625-4381 (o)

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Panayiota (Pani) Kendeou, PhD
“We often get our news on social media platforms. It’s quick. It’s convenient. However, it’s also often riddled with fake news and misinformation. Unfortunately, our human memory does not have an ‘erase and replace’ button. In other words, the fake news and misinformation we are exposed to will continue to influence our thinking and decision making—long after we learn it’s not true.

“How do we solve this? Researchers call for a multidisciplinary effort that focuses on both the news ecosystem and news consumers (Lazer et al., 2018. Science).

“With respect to the news ecosystem, we need to do more to prevent our exposure to fake news to begin with. To do this, we must make systemic changes to our information systems—new safeguards, like filtering algorithms—that align with the technological advances of today and tomorrow.

“As news consumers, we need to adopt an ‘evaluative mindset.’ Research tells us that critical evaluation of the information and its source, like fact-checking or paying attention to the features of a message, can be effective in fending off fake news and misinformation. To help the next generation separate fact from fiction, we must support an education system that will train these critical evaluation skills from a young age.”

Panayiota (Pani) Kendeou, PhD, is a professor and Guy Bond Chair in Reading at the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota. Her recent work focuses on identifying, researching and implementing strategies that reduce the impact of misinformation.

Contact information:
Caitlin Hurley
612-624-1690 (o)

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