Do You Believe Everything You Read?

By now, just about everybody is aware that the news industry has been impacted dramatically by the ability of consumers to seek–and even generate–news themselves through a variety of online resources that may include their own blogs and social media accounts. When breaking news occurs, it is often shared first online where it grows and spreads exponentially. The problem is: it’s not always accurate!

Recent analysis by Pew Research reveals three important points about the “news” that many are consuming online:

  • Much of what is posted is centered around breaking news
  • Sentiments about this news shifts considerably over time
  • However passionate, these online conversations don’t track with public opinion

That last point is probably most telling, most interesting, and most alarming! Despite the widespread trending and sharing of information on sites like Twitter, it seems that these online sentiments do not reflect the collective viewpoints of the masses. As Pew says: “it is not a reliable proxy for public opinion.” Pew analyzed 10 different Twitter-fueled news items.

For instance:

“After the Newtown tragedy, 64% of the Twitter conversation supported stricter gun controls, while 21% opposed them. A Pew Research Center survey in the same period produced a far more mixed verdict, with 49% saying it is more important to control gun ownership and 42% saying it is more important to protect gun rights.” You can read a more detailed analysis of this and the other news events here.

The big takeaway here: be careful what you believe. No, you can’t believe everything you read. Importantly, as a 21st century consumer of news and information, it pays to exercise a certain amount of healthy skepticism.


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