Instagram, once the feel-good, ultra-visual Facebook sibling, is now becoming a main news source for both millennials and Gen Z.
And it’s not alone. According to The Guardian, 18-24-year-olds in the US most often use Instagram for news content, at about 25%, followed by Snapchat (19%) and TikTok (6%). Only 17% of those surveyed used actual newspapers to get their news.
Instagram’s Visual Appeal
Common Sense Media released a poll in 2019 that indicated, “Teens clearly prefer a visual medium for learning about the news. A majority (64%) say that ‘seeing pictures and video showing what happened’ gives them the best understanding of major news events, while just 36% say they’d prefer to read or hear the facts about what happened.”
Syracuse University communications professor Jennifer Gygial explained to The Guardian that Instagram’s visual emphasis produces news “content” that’s meme-based, “so people share memes that are more about influencing than informing and people need to exercise caution and be aware of who they’re engaging with.”
While the ease of posting memes and basic information (like the location of the latest protest) makes Instagram very fast and convenient, there is little room for nuance. Users end up locked in social media bubbles of polarizing images, with little in the way of diverse views.
“Social media offers, on the one hand, a medium for filling what feels like a vacuum of trustworthy information sources,” Amelia Gibson, assistant professor and director of the Community Equity Data and Information Lab at the University of North Carolina, told The Guardian. “But on the other hand, our social media environments are still so segmented that some people really do live in different information worlds. In one information ecosystem, people might read this moment [and current social justice movements] as a hopeful international awakening related to anti-racism, others read it as a time of deep existential threat. We see these different worlds clashing when people meet in real life.”
Mistrust of News Organizations
In one poll conducted in April by the Reuters Institute, researchers used the subject of COVID-19 to track how people got their news about the pandemic. The pollsters found that the lower the education level (like in teens, for instance), the greater the level of distrust leveled at mainstream media sources, and the greater the reliance on social media platforms and messaging for news.
One troubling outcome: “Almost a quarter of our respondents incorrectly believe coronavirus was made in a laboratory,” Reuters Institute reported. Of course, this is actual fake news.
Combating Low-Information News Sources
No one wants to be misinformed. The trick is to be able to think critically instead of thoughtlessly reading and disseminating false news.
Ernest Hemingway put it best in 1954: “Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him.” To aid a teen or young adult in this detection, librarians at Dominican University came up with the C.R.A.P. test for judging news.
C.R.A.P. stands for currency, reliability, authority and purpose. Fact checking is essential. Knowing how recent and relevant the news is, how reliable the source is and how balanced the information is. Knowing if the writer or distributor is legitimate, and understanding the difference between facts and opinions are all key.
Need help? You might try CyberWise, a site devoted to helping parents raise tech-savvy kids but with lessons that work for people of any age.