One by one, Facebook users around the country watched their feed become a mantra, a thread of friends falsely “checking in” to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. In an act of solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, over 1.3 million activists around the globe flooded Facebook in an attempt to overload the location tag, all in hopes of confusing the Morton County Police Department (MCPD). According to one user, the department planned to utilize this tag to track down protesters of the Dakota Access Pipeline, an oil duct set to desecrate sacred Native American land and likely contaminate the reservation’s water supply. Shortly after the social media information surge, the MCPD rejected these claims as “absolutely false.” Whether or not true, the widespread movement’s message and impact had been made.
Alongside social media’s unquestionable rise to fame, journalism and the distribution of news has been revolutionized for centuries to come. Now with over 40% of the global population having Internet access — as opposed to 1% in 1995 — breaking news, insider reports and general information are more accessible now more than ever. No longer may Americans respond to large scale tragedy with comments such as, “I never would have known!” and “If only we knew beforehand!” when news access exists quite literally at our fingertips.
In the case of the tragedy occurring in Syria, 7-year-old Bana Albed openly tweets her experience living in Aleppo with the help of her mother and English teacher, Fatemah. Through the use of a cellphone hastily charged by a solar panel, Bana shares updates on the horrors of nonstop bombing, starvation and the looming fear of death. “Dear world, we are dying,” a recent tweet said. In another, an image of rubble accompanies a message of broken English, “This is my friend house bombed, she’s killed. I miss her so much.”
Admittedly though, with wider access to social media, questions of credibility arise with the increased feasibility of posting fabricated news. As seen through the Facebook check-in movement against the MCPD, an army of protesters rushed to take action in opposition to an event that, as it turns out, may not have even occurred. But as evident through any form of media, fraudulent news is inevitable, though avoidable with the usage of common sense. Simply learning which news sources are well established and credible is an invaluable skill, along with the age old advice, “Don’t trust everything you hear.”
Misconceptions aside, even employed journalists recognize the merits of social media as a source of information. According to an Indiana University school of journalism report, 78.5% of U.S. journalists utilize social media as a means of gathering breaking news. Another 54.1% regularly use media to gather sources.
Though when deciphering credible and incredible news sources still proves difficult, reliable publications often filter through breaking stories in order to offer information only after confirmation, as demonstrated by apps like NBC News’s “Breaking News +”, a quick, reliable source of breaking news alerts that are sent straight to one’s smartphone.
And when election day finally arrived, digital media was widely used more than ever. Online new sources meticulously updated an anxious country — and pointedly globe — of every poll number and state triumph as soon as information surfaced, a luxury unavailable to generations before those alive today.
As today’s population grows up with the privilege of living during the digital era, the rise of social media has proven to be an invaluable news source. Along with it comes a civic responsibility to remain informed on topics and situations plaguing nations today. While most forms of social media can be recounted as a powerful means of sharing information, Fatemah Albed nicely sums the impact of Twitter on her Syrian narrative specifically. “Twitter is a very powerful platform that can change the world,” she tweeted. “Thanks @twitter for giving me the opportunity to use you.”