Nolan Scoretz, photo editor
Social media is something that nearly everyone in the modern world uses, whether directly or indirectly. These apps and websites are designed to show users content that they are statistically likely to enjoy or agree with; whether that be from people they know, might know or organizations that they may agree with. Unfortunately, many people are turning to accounts on apps like Instagram and Twitter as their primary source for news and ideas. This is problematic.
Apps like Instagram and TikTok are engineered through artificial intelligence and statistical research to display posts that are tailored to the user. Your timeline consists of posts from accounts you chose to follow; and is then sprinkled in with “suggested for you” tabs that recommend accounts similar to those. There is also the “explore” tab, where related content is recommended to you.
What this creates is clique-esque circles of accounts that you follow. We’re rarely recommended accounts outside of these circles, meaning if you follow mainly conservative-focused political accounts, you’re not likely to be recommended liberal-focused political accounts and vice versa.
This, in and of itself, is not problematic. After all, social media is a form of entertainment, and if you want to only see pages deifying Donald Trump or stan accounts of Taylor Swift, you can. Issues start when users find their news and inform their opinions solely based on these tailored apps.
A fairly common trend I see is artsy threads of political statements or arguments that tell you why their view of the current trendy topic-of-debate is right, and why yours is wrong. These threads are easy to share, yet are many times devoid of fact. Rarely do you see one of these posts with credible sources cited or references to scientific studies. They attract audiences with short paragraphs, pastel colors and minimalist graphics–not with hard, researched truth.
Another issue is how these tailored timelines give users tunnel-vision. They’re subject to the same beliefs and points of view, and are seldom exposed to ideas outside of their media cliques. Not only are the sources you are intaking information from limited by the algorithms, but also possibly by censorship from the platforms themselves.
Many accounts post about current events before verifying facts, whether due to ignorance or seeking more impressions. Gabrielle Petito, a travelling influencer, was reported as missing in Wyoming on Sept. 11 by the New York Times. Major news outlets covered updates of the case as the investigation went on.
This case became publicized and was discussed frequently on social media. Many accounts and influencers on social media platforms also kept their followers updated as they received the news. A body consistent with Petito’s description was found on Sept. 19, but had yet to be identified by authorities until Sept. 21. Between those dates, there were countless posts on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter claiming that her death was a homicide committed by her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie. His account on Instagram, @bizzare_design_, was filled with accusations and even death threats.
At the time of writing, Petito’s death has been ruled a homicide, and an arrest warrant has been issued for Laundrie. While the crime was likely committed by Laundrie, there is still the chance of there being an entirely different story. Rumors spread like wildfire, however; and people who have seen these accusatory posts may have spread their claims to others as fact. This is why it’s crucial to take news from multiple reputable outlets in order to inform your opinions and find out the truth. Whether you overhear drama at a coffee shop or see a breaking story on a TikTok video, take the time to research the issue to truly understand the facts of the matter. Don’t just take a stranger’s word for it.