Believe Everything and Question Nothing

June 23, 2014

I’m not the first person that believes social media is responsible for the escalation of futility in our country.  Many before me have professed their contempt for bastardized communication, not-so-clever Willy Wonka memes, and hoaxes that warn readers not to flash their headlights for fear of being attacked by violent gangs waiting to prey on unsuspecting motorists.  It appears that America’s preferred communication method has digressed into pictures or messages that fit into the 140 character spectrum– and it’s a problem.

I’m not sure when I became a critical thinker, but it more than likely happened while attending college as a 45-year-old. It crept up on me like kidney stones; out of the blue I began to question everything and I expected everyone else to do the same. It’s a pretty simple concept. Throughout our entire lives we’ve been told not to believe everything we read, yet Facebook users seem to forget that simple life lesson. The practice of sharing inaccurate information is not only rooted in laziness, it’s also based on a lack of understanding what sources can be defined as credible. We should have that fixed by the end of this “not a credible source” blog post.

Below are a few tips to make yourself appear a little more intelligent to your social media peers.

Use Credible Sources- Do you want to make a solid argument in your next online political debate? Find current articles or information that clearly cites where the research originated. A credible source is simply a source that the reader or viewer can trust. Journals by well-respected authors or experts in a specific field of study are credible sources. Websites ending in .edu, .org and .gov are normally considered credible sources. Blogs, Wikipedia, memes, articles without a published author, or media outlets that attempt to persuade are not.

Drop the Memes-  It’s important to understand where memes originate in order to understand how useless they really are.  Many of the memes that are prevalent in social media are generated from sites like Reddit or 4chann and are fairly old by the time they reach Facebook. Know Your Memes explains the history of most means.

People often ask me why memes or stories that contain false information are published and shared. It’s simple. People create them for fun and then others attempt to “one-up” the originator of the meme or story in an attempt to illicit more views. It’s obvious why you shouldn’t perpetuate the negative impact that these devices carry by sharing them on social media.

Political memes are often generated by political organizations that are attempting to persuade the reader. More often than not, political memes do not contain accurate sources and in many cases leave out pertinent information.  It’s easy to determine their accuracy with a Google search.

Check the Facts– No…Michael Vick did not get bit by a stray pitbull, Facebook will not donate money for a child’s heart transplant every time you share a post and feeding your dog ice cubes will not kill him. Determining whether these stories are true and accurate is easy. Simply Google the headline followed by the word “hoax.” It works every time! There are also websites such as hoaxslayer.com and snopes.com dedicated to rebuking falsehoods.

These guidelines may seem hollow and unwarranted, but in the scope of effective communication, they’re extremely important. I’d imagine that some reading this will argue that social media is supposed to be fun and not so serious. I’d agree- that’s why I didn’t mention your cat pictures or photos of your vegan dinner at your favorite hipster restaurant. When one decides to cross the line and distribute information that may influence  a reader’s opinion about important subjects, then it’s the poster’s responsibility to present credible and accurate information.

The biggest problem with “sharing” memes and stories on social media is that the user is letting someone else do their thinking and speaking for them. Have we really become so time-consumed that we need to have someone else assemble our thoughts before we confess them? It’s much more stimulating and conversational when we stumble across a post that’s well thought out and in the user’s own words. Just say no to internet trash.

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Head’s Up…

Meghan Peter’s blog article, “Why the Future of Social Is in the Palm of Your Hand” provides insight into the positive and endless possibilities of social media’s use through handheld devices. Although the piece felt like a promotional advertisement for Sonar, Stamped, Soundtracking and Apple, her mention of these companies was more than likely to add credibility to her article.

texting2Though smartphones provide the technology to engage in real-time updates, they’ve also prompted a detachment of personal, face-to-face relationships—at least in the Western culture. While Peters explains the benefits of checking in, posting real-time photos, and communicating with friends and family in different parts of the world, she fails to point out that many are substituting social media for physical relationships.

I have a strong understanding of social media. I was born at the perfect time to figure this thing out. I watched PC’s come into our homes, I participated in the beginnings of the internet, I watched social media being born, and I saw shoe-box sized cell phones morph into devices that are smaller than a deck of cards. The issue with handheld computers is that people have sacrificed actual human engagement for lists of friends that we wouldn’t recognize or say hello to on the street. EVERYONE has been in a situation where they’ve seen a Facebook acquaintance in public and pretended not to see them. I’ve done it and I’ve seen others do it.

Walk through a hallway in a local college and you’ll see the disconnect when students leave their classrooms. The majority of the students have their faces buried in their phones while bumping into others doing the same thing.

Cell phone technology is an amazing thing. It DOES allow people to connect in unique ways that can actually enhance relationships. But until users learn how to balance social media and up close and personal relationships, many of us will be walking around bumping into each other.

Social Media Junkie

Social media addiction…Hmmm.

Most people would instinctively believe that the amount of time spent engaging in social media use would directly affect the user’s dependency. I don’t believe that to be the case. The influence that social media has on the end-user is far greater than the amount of time logged in.

I’m two steps away from being addicted to social media. Although I have a Twitter account, I find myself engaged in Facebook and the Harmony Central forums more than any other thing on the internet. The two sites take care of different needs. Facebook allows me to engage in the interests that consume me including sports, politics and music. Harmony Central fulfills my musical needs.

The reason that social media addiction is not strictly about the time spent on its pages is ShinWa-Marketing-Social-Media-Waste-of-Time-for-Marketersbecause of its grasp on the person when they’re NOT on the site. The article that we read for this week’s assignment said it perfectly—students feel as if they are missing out on something when they’re offline. And that’s exactly how I feel. Although I read and watch the news, engage in perfectly healthy discussions in person and can live without my phone, I feel as if there’s a response to a post or a topic that needs my opinion. As I sit typing this blog post I’ve actually checked my Facebook and Harmony Central accounts twice.

The most obvious issue I see with the connected generation and the use of social media is the loss of critical thinking. People re-post and re-quote things that they don’t know to be true. People form opinions on major news stories and political topics based on what a cartoon or image portrays. It seems that the people that fact check things are very few and the people that recycle the garbage that they find on social media sites hold on to and defend the ideology that they’ve formed from these images.

The one thing that is certain is that social media is here to stay and will only become more mainstream than it already is. Hopefully users will learn to deal with the connectivity responsibly.