There should be clear divisions between platforms, publications

Distinguishing between credible sources would help citizens avoid biased, misinformed news



Travis Ridout, professor of government and public policy at WSU, discusses the impact of social media and effects of microtargeting Thursday night in Goertzen Hall.

SAAD NABIL ALI, Evergreen columnist

The best way to eliminate confusion about facts, confirmation bias and microtargeting is to strongly enforce the distinctions between a platform and a publication.

Many people think platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit exist in part to complement the coverage of news produced by publications in a more consumable fashion. Although true, there needs to be an understanding of the intrinsic features that separate the two types of entities.

Publications operate by means of editorial oversight tasked with authenticating and approving the information its staff produces on behalf of the organization.

They have a purpose, established credibility, means to prevent the spread of false information and authorized personnel to act as agents on behalf of the publication.

This is fundamentally why publications can be sued for libel and slander when false information is printed.

A platform, by comparison, is a less regulated space individuals and entities populate with content.

Platforms traditionally do not regulate thought as it pertains to factual evidence, but as private businesses they have the authority to revoke the privilege of its facilitated space for virtually any reason.

The differences between the two matter when a platform, whose existence is solely dependent on consumer interaction, orients its space to appear like a publication when it is not subject to the same laws.

Eighty-eight percent of young adults regularly get news from Facebook and other social media, according to a 2015 study of 1,045 adults ages 18 to 34 by the Media Insight Project.

At face value it may seem harmless, but when you have unsubstantiated opinions introduced in the same capacity as authenticated news, consumers have difficulty differentiating fact from fiction.

A study conducted by Stanford’s Graduate School of Education revealed that middle school, high school and college students all failed in the ability to reasonably comprehend what credibly sourced content looks like.

“In exercise after exercise, the researchers were ‘shocked’ — their word, not ours — by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of that information,” according to National Public Radio.

When all the content throughout a person’s day comes from a platform specifically designed to satisfy opinions, or at the very least cloud biases with cherry-picked information, the emergence of microtargeting and confirmation bias begin to take shape.

When I attended the “Targeting you! Microtargeting in elections,” Foley Talk on Thursday, it became clear to me why this is so problematic.

“So how do campaigns reach you through social media?” said Travis Ridout, Thomas S. Foley Distinguished Professor of Government and Public Policy at WSU. “They upload to Facebook. ‘Here is the list of email addresses we’ve collected, try to find these people in your database and target them with these ads.’ ”

Students at the event appeared to share concerns regarding targeted ads from the growing presence of these platforms.

“When it comes to microtargeting, I guess political bias wouldn’t be seen as much of a problem for the people actually doing it,” said David Jimenez, junior political science major and attendee of the microtargeting event. “They’re just misinforming people to get them on their side and that’s where the issues could come in.”

With the growing political divide among young adults, social media platforms are just another entity willing to exploit discourse to further their own agendas.

“Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history. Growing numbers of Republicans and Democrats express highly negative views of the opposing party,” according to Pew Research Center.

Ultimately, at the height of political participation and polarization, advocating for the distinctive lines between social media platforms and news publications is now more imperative than ever.

We need to stop providing media platforms the social capital that produces an unearned credibility, support publications as the primary producer of news and continue fostering a climate of civil discussion.