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Social media truths, lies and cats in costumes

With tragic events hitting headlines on a daily basis, and most of those headlines winding up being shared digitally, chances are there are at least a few status updates in your Facebook News Feed alluding to misinformation, misreporting, and fabricated facts.
It harks back to the old saying ‘don’t believe everything you read’. It also raises questions over editorial responsibility on social networks. We’ve said it here before- we are all publishers, providing we have at least one social account, but there’s a huge grey area in terms of accountability therein.
From a branding perspective, it’s vital to ensure you don’t mislead, pull the wool over eyes, or try to distract with falsities. The reality of any situation- from environmental credentials to workplace ethics- will almost always out eventually, as such successful reputation management depends on being honest, forthright and open within this context.
Individuals are a very different story altogether, mind. What seems like a harmless share can easily go viral, meaning the 1,000 friends you just showed a picture to can soon become 2,000, 3,000 and so on. Of course, we’d like to believe that people are shrewd enough to form their opinion based on a variety of sources, but statistics released in the last week or so suggest this may not always be the case.
According to this story on Prolific North, a new report by Ofcom has warned that 1 in 10 ‘digital natives’ (i.e. people who cannot remember a world without the internet) believes everything they read on social media. Further more, ‘most’ 12-15 year olds are unaware that vloggers can be paid to endorse products, services and companies.
Given the point of this post, it’s important to mention that the phrase ‘most’ is a little vague- it could mean 99%, or 51%, and there’s a huge difference. Nevertheless, this emerging trend amongst those at the youngest end of media consumption is worrying. Especially in an age when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump releases grossly misleading (in fact, completely fabricated) U.S. crime figures on Twitter, and old news images are re-appropriated to ‘represent’ events taking place right now.
No matter which side of the political fence you fall upon, media consumption relies on the ability to read things properly. And by that we don’t simply mean understanding what a sentence says. Journalists across the world are risking their lives everyday in the hope of trying to shed light on horrifying situations, yet there isn’t a media title in the world that doesn’t have an overriding point of view.
Hence the reason why we have so many national papers, for example- each represents a unique demographic that shares in the publication’s ideology, whether those readers know that or not. Writers write for the people that read their work, and whilst the standards of neutral reporting are, on the whole, high, as human beings we cannot help but form an opinion and have a stance.
From a corporate perspective this may seem like the useless ramblings of someone who has seen one post too many focused on poorly researched, or, worse still, completely invented information. Yet there is another point. If people are becoming more trusting in social media content, then it’s becoming more important to consider the impact that content can have, and the possible repercussions should that content be criticised as misleading.
Put simply; transparency, transparency, transparency. Even if you are only posting videos of cats in costumes.
So what do you think- are you more likely to trust the information your digital friends share simply because they are the ones sharing it, or do you ask questions whenever something catches your attention? Let us know via the comments form below.

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