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How Misinformation Spreads on Social Media—And How to Combat

December 28, 2022

Unless you’re making an active effort to disconnect from the 24/7 news cycle then chances are you’ve heard about Elon Musk’s recent Twitter acquisition and his subsequent moves to shake up the company, which has had a major impact in how some people are getting and distributing news.

Twitter has been the social media platform of choice for journalists and reporters to “tweet out” and track breaking news and watch real-time developments unfold. In fact, content makers and social influencers of all types use Twitter to share tidbits of knowledge, make witty observations, and gather material for content they plan to produce elsewhere.

Of course, Twitter has always come with a mix of fact-based reporting and opinion-sharing that can blur the lines between objective truth and subjective feeling. The company has tried various ways to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, but the results can be mixed.

Far too often, it’s up to the individual to decide what to accept at face value and what to dismiss—that means it’s more important than ever for media professionals to use a research tool to root out fiction quickly and ensure they’re only sharing the most accurate information.

Why the current landscape can lead to misinformation

In many regards, Twitter was built to be an inclusive echo chamber—a place open to anyone who wants to log in and share timely news. But what happens when the people coming to and using this echo chamber are sharing bits of information that are either missing context at best or intentionally misleading at worst? What happens when people take opinions as facts, retweet them, and thus help perpetuate something inaccurate—even if they had good intentions and believed what they were retweeting to be wholly true?

Misinformation on Twitter is a symptom of a larger challenge

We don’t mean to dogpile on Twitter. As Twitter is, arguably, the go-to social media platform for short and digestible content that journalists, it has driven the shift to constant, cluttered news updates. While other social media platforms like Facebook can run afoul of misinformation just as easily, they were designed, first and foremost, to serve as a way for people to keep in touch with one another.

Twitter, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up to spread information quickly. And, yes, the platform’s ability to do so is invaluable when it comes to sharing time-sensitive information, breaking news, or inspire activist movements like the #icebucketchallenge. However, this also means that conspiracy theories, like those around the COVID-19 pandemic, can spread rapidly via a simple hashtag in short digestible pieces of text.

In fact, researchers at MIT found in 2018 that misinformation spreads much faster on Twitter than any other platform, making it so hard to navigate the Twitter content landscape.

When fast surpasses factual 

In the age of the 24/7 news cycle (partially created by Twitter), many of the users on Twitter are news professionals and media personalities who are under pressure to churn out content at a rapid clip, lest they lose the chance at being first to share a scoop or tantalizing revelation.

Over the years, the speed and frequency in which news gets reported have only intensified exponentially, leading some content creators to gradually deprioritize factual content in favor of fast content. 

And sometimes---it’s hard to tell the difference. For example, several well-known publications recently tweeted out that the holiday movie favorite The Holiday, was getting a sequel. And, as it is a beloved romcom, the exciting news spread quickly. 

However, that news wasn’t quite true…In fact, director Nancy Meyers took to Instagram to address the many DMs she received anticipating the movie’s release, saying “sorry, but it’s not true”.

This is just one example of the way in which one story with misinformation can spread and cause a flurry of wrong facts circling the web. While this was pretty benign, other stories with information that is either inaccurate or missing context can quickly be circulated, causing harm and stoking fringe theories.

And, if a journalist doesn’t take the time to check their sources to save time and keep up with the news cycle, they could spread misinformation without even realizing it.

Identify and remove misinformation with Nexis for media and journalism

To beat the looming deadline while also confirming his story’s details, a journalist can use our flagship Nexis product to quickly access the largest collection of local and global news, U.S. public records, legal content and more. Simply enter a word or phrase pertaining to the story in the Nexis search bar, apply pre- and post-search filters on the user-friendly dashboard, and quickly locate source documents and other information that can verify, disprove, or even elevate the story.

Not only can the journalist find key dates, court filings, and other legal documents with a simple search, but they can also locate contact information of the people who either lived through the events or otherwise have intimate knowledge of the situation. So, as the journalist pulls his story together, they can identify details that are false and home in on what’s credible.

With solutions like Nexis, the journalist no longer has to sacrifice reporting accuracy for speed. Instead, he can move quickly to validate key details that make or break the story. He can use filters to drill down and find connections between the people, places, and events of the story faster. And he can conduct more in-depth reporting in a fraction of the time it would normally take.

LexisNexis offers solutions like Nexis for Media Professionals to help content creators quickly separate fact from fiction—so that deadlines are met and ethical reporting standards are upheld. You can also access local and global news, company data, and legal content instantly with a 7-day Instant Free Trial.