We live in a modern, digital age where every story, headline, or trending hashtag is just a finger-tap away. It’s truly incredible to see the evolution of traditional media like magazines, newspapers, and radio transform into digital media like television networks and social media. But now that it has become so easy to read and even write several news-related articles and opinions online, is the integrity of journalism in jeopardy due to misinformation?
The concept of the Two-Step Flow Theory is that the flow of information from media to the people is a two-step process. Information is taken from media to particular individuals (opinion leaders, influential people, etc.) and from them to the public. What stops these opinion leaders and media outlets from spreading misinformation? The public is heavily influenced by media that is consumed daily. It has become relatively easy to search and find articles or information that aligns with an individual’s viewpoint, without the consideration of factual information or reliable sources.
Digital media has made it easy for the public to have accessible news; everything we could ever read or watch is available with the tap of a finger. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, more than eight-in-ten Americans get their news from digital devices. Americans are turning away from traditional media outlets and going to their digital devices to consume their news. Media outlets have a responsibility to report factual information to the public, but nothing is stopping the public from getting information from unreliable sources or by social media. People tend to take the information they see either shared by a trusted family member or a headline that pushes their viewpoint (sometimes without even reading the article itself). It’s important that as consumers of media we take the time to do sufficient research to gain factual information, regardless of opinion, so as to not become vulnerable to misinformation. Author Tom Rosenstiel puts the problem of misinformation into an excellent explanation, “Misinformation is not like a plumbing problem you fix. It is a social condition, like crime, that you must constantly monitor and adjust to.”
Reading all of this information in regards to misinformation and how we consume media primarily through digital media, has me thinking of how I consume and share media myself. Personally, I use social media primarily for fun, as a way to stay connected with my friends and family, and as a distraction to what is happening in the world. Therefore, I tend to share very little or no news or political-related stories unless it is on a topic I deeply care about. Although I try to steer away as best as I can from these topics, it is inevitable. Opinions and news stories are shared constantly by people that share the same opinion as my own. Since misinformation has become such a prevalent problem in recent years, I have changed my media-consuming habits accordingly. While I think it’s important for the public to be aware of what’s happening in the world around us, I also think it’s important for the public to take the time to research information from several reliable sources, then form an opinion afterward.