Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Counterpoint: social media and social irresponsibility

Natán Murillo

Social media has become such an integral part of our daily lives that it seems impossible to avoid. Students constantly use it to connect and engage with the rest of the world. 

But this instant accessibility can also be incredibly harmful because social media is rampant with misinformation. Many people use social media to passively engage in current affairs without researching and creating change in the issues their Instagram and Twitter profiles claim to be passionate about.

Social media activism is not an effective tool to achieve tangible change, and students must learn to more critically and actively engage with it.  

A 2018 study conducted by MIT Sloan found that misinformation on social media is “70% more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than the truth, and (that misinformation will) reach their first 1,500 people six times faster.” 

Through the fast-paced manner in which we disseminate information on social platforms, we are susceptible to engaging with misinformation every day.

This trend is particularly worrisome considering that among individuals aged 18-29, 43% get their news from Twitter, 44% from Instagram and 52% from TikTok, according to the Pew Research Center.

Samuel Woolley, program director of the UT propaganda research lab, explained the intention and effect of targeting misinformation specifically leveled at college students. 

“What college students encounter on social media can be very disenchanting,”  said Woolley, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Media. “It can make them feel like institutions are failing. So academia, medicine, science — it can make them feel like there’s no right piece of information out there, and unfortunately, that’s the goal.” 

UT students are incredibly active in social, civic and political issues. While social media is important for spreading awareness of certain issues, it becomes dangerous when we fall into the habit of passive engagement. 

“I think there are real ways that social media can be used as a tool for organizing, but I also think that a lot of it does allow for more passive engagement rather than a lot of active engagement,” Woolley said. 

Passive engagement is when we open Instagram and simply repost whatever the trending infographic is. It’s when we comment or like someone else’s content and then keep scrolling. It’s when we casually engage with an issue on social media and forget about it the rest of the day.  

“On social media, most of the time people will just read the headlines of news stories, or they’ll just casually engage with certain kinds of content there rather than engaging more in-depth with an expert or with multiple sources … which is problematic,” Woolley said.

It’s also easy to forget that social media platforms are ultimately companies that seek to monetize our attention. Algorithmically, it’s far easier to push information that only corroborates one’s existing beliefs — regardless of its accuracy. 

Micheal Mackert, director of the UT Center for Health Communication, explained how conflicting health information can spread on social media.

“If you already want to believe whatever about your health and what you want to do with your health, social media and the internet can help you find people who give you the information you want and will then agree with you,” Mackert said.

Passively consuming social media unintentionally perpetuates the spread of possibly false and biased information. How are we going to change the world if we don’t even fact-check what we post?

The solution is active engagement. 

“It’s important for people to educate themselves as much as possible before they take firm stances and share content on social media,” Woolley said. “You should combine your online activism and your online engagement with offline engagement to cultivate interests in particular issues, learn about those issues in depth and figure out how you can get involved.”

Mackert also encouraged students to cross-check social platforms with reputable sources. 

“There’s a lot of really good resources on this campus for students to make good health decisions that have really been vetted and can be trusted compared to a random thing that goes flying by on Instagram,” Mackert said.

Some of these resources include UT’s Center for Media Engagement, Healthy Horns and Good Systems. If students are interested in specific issues, there are a plethora of student activist groups on campus.

As socially aware students, it is our duty to meaningfully educate and engage with the issues we care about. While social media can be a valuable tool to spread awareness and organize, it can be equally destructive when people consume it irresponsibly. 

Lack is a dance and Plan II sophomore from San Angelo, Texas. 

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