A modern reality is that social media is an inestimably powerful force in communication, and if only because the media attracts literally billions of subscribers. Users engage with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites to interact with family, and friends either known to them in life or known only through the media. Much of the interaction is genuinely social, as users share thoughts, feeling, and events of their lives. At the same time, however, and increasingly, users employ the sites to make political and social statements, often adding links to news outlets both credible and otherwise, to support their own thinking. This, in turn, reflects how the social and the informational become inextricably connected in the media, which creates issues of credibility and misinformation. In the following, these factors are examined, and the need for social media users to practice discretion and judgment becomes evident.
Before the noted credibility issues of social media may be understood, it is first necessary to recognize the sheer impact of the media. At the beginning of 2017, seven out of ten Americans used social media on a daily basis (PRC, 2017), as usage consistently increases. This popularity relies, not unexpectedly, on the social advantages users perceive. Logging into Facebook, for example, enables opportunities to share personal information with friends, interact with new friends, convey opinions, and gain a sense of how others are thinking. Moreover, it is at least arguable that the sites provide senses of empowerment; users are enabled to create posts and believe that they are having influence on many other users. This advantage exists in both social and business media activities, as well. In either case, users are able to: “Facilitate open communication, leading to enhanced information discovery and delivery” (SHRM, 2012). As the information is so easily obtained, effort is minimal, and subscribers enjoy the further advantage of deciding on which posts are appealing and credible, as they also may add to, or detract from, what others present. Essentially, social media is a vast and complex range of interactions. Nonetheless, information as so easily obtained is problematic, in that it is likely that a cumulative effect happens. Users post links to news sources to support their views, but it frequently occurs that sources are invalid. More exactly, the consistent practice of reading all social media “news” may well result in a general acceptance of sources as credible, which generates criticism from other users who reply to questionable posts and links, and assert that the source is biased.
The advantages and disadvantages of social media are, in fact, exponentially connected. As there are opportunities to learn when valid sources are posted, so too are there possibilities of being mislead and misinformed. The latter potentials are reinforced by research indicating that, the greater the interactivity of the user, the more the user attaches beliefs in credibility to whatever is on the site itself (Li, Suh, 2015, p. 317). In a very real sense, untold numbers of users turn to social media as their primary source of news and information, which then generates a greater sense of trust in the media. The link between advantage and disadvantage is also evident in how the platforms are reliant on messages, pictures, and links on personal levels. As is well known, nuance is at best difficult in casual communication that is written, a reality supported by how many posters feel the need to inform others that their posts were meant to be sarcastic. In plain terms, and even in the most friendly exchanges, interpretation is critical. Consequently, and as more and more people engage in these virtual scenarios, there is then a greater likelihood of misinterpretation of intent, and with both news and personal interactions.
All of the above then suggests how a specific strategy may significantly enhance the social media experience. The user should practice both an ongoing awareness of the realities and a caution in responding or posting. There is an immediacy element in social media; users read a post they find objectionable, and quickly react in a reply without assessing the real intent of the poster and/or the integrity of any sources cited. What then ensues are tensions and conflicts between both friends and strangers. Even the most devoted social media user, then, serves their own interests when they approach the media with some caution, and the understanding that immediate response may easily be misguided. People, in life and online, communicate in ways unique to themselves, as they often assume their real meaning is evident when, in reality, it is subject to interpretation. This also relates to the noted credibility issues, as users must exercise care before assuming any linked source or quoted statement is accurate. Ultimately, it is at least arguable that social media requires personal efforts too frequently disregarded.
As technology evolves and devices become more convenient, it follows that the immense popularity of social media will only continue to increase. At the same time, this likelihood suggests that credibility and subjectivity issues in usage will also increase. This is strongly evident in how the media today has become a platform for heated political disputes, and inestimable accusations of misinformation being offered to support specific viewpoints. Even personal media interactions are vulnerable to misunderstandings, and real friendships are endangered through them. The above then leads to users as altering their approaches to social media in general. When all the realities are assessed, it becomes clear that social media users should practice discretion, caution, and judgment before actual interacting.
- Li, R., & Suh, A. (2015). Factors Influencing Information credibility on Social Media Platforms:
Evidence from Facebook Pages. Procedia Computer Science, 72, 314-328.
- Pew Research Center (PRC). (2017). Social Media Fact Sheet. Retrieved from
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). (2012). “Social Media: What are the advantages and disadvantages of social networking sites?” Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/socialnetworkingsitespolicy.aspx