Each week our Media and Communications students hear from a new speaker giving their account of working within the industry for our Media and Communications in Action series. Here MSc Media & Communications student Rachel Haik discusses the recent appearance of Mark Frankel, former social media editor for BBC News, who discussed his recent research on social media communities and the reporting of the pandemic.
Journalists often use social media to gain access to information, and the tactics they use may be applicable to the fight against misinformation. Mark Frankel worked as a Social Media Editor for BBC News and his new report for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism explores how journalists can find newsworthy content within private groups on social media and the importance of authenticating these sources.
Is it mass media’s fault that misinformation often spreads faster than facts? Or does the fault lie in the consumer’s hands? Although tech conglomerates create and monitor the algorithms that allow fabricated stories to proliferate, perhaps a better understanding of social media tools on the audience’s behalf and a change in algorithmic motives can rid our feeds of these phoney fables.
“We like to be entertained as human beings, and I think that’s at the heart of this,” said Frankel. “You can introduce regulations. You can introduce a regulator. You can say that we need common standards. You can say that we need an approach that’s founded on people not being abused and trolled and all the rest of it. To my mind, there has to be an algorithmic incentive to reward the reliable, the quality and the worthwhile.”
“To my mind, there has to be an algorithmic incentive to reward the reliable, the quality and the worthwhile”
In his talk, Frankel spoke about social media communities and the challenges journalists face when seeking out reliable sources via social media. He uses many tools and tactics to capitalise on everything social media have to offer.
In his report, Frankel discusses how journalists can work with communities within private groups on social media in the age of Covid-19. Frankel looked at communities on Facebook and Reddit over a three-month period, and contended that there are at least three categories of potentially newsworthy material shared in these private groups: first-hand testimony, research from experts and peer-group discussion. Although these materials are often newsworthy, it is important that journalists authenticate them.
The sizeable amount of content on social media sometimes makes misinformation difficult to counter. More time at home is translating to more time online. Many scientific and medical experts are sharing their expertise through social media, but this is often accompanied by misinformation. Frankel recommended that journalists give full disclosure of their research intentions and always verify information found through social media.
“The tools should be there to support what you do, to help you understand what you’re reading, what you’re seeing, what you’re watching and to cross-reference it against other content that’s on the internet. They’re not a substitute for journalism,” Frankel added.
But even if every journalist is solely sharing verified information, is that enough to combat misinformation?
The fight against false information has to be fought at multiple levels. Frankel’s idea to change the incentive of algorithms from rewarding what’s sharable to rewarding what’s true is a first step tech companies need to consider adopting to create safer spaces online. On another level, perhaps the tools and tactics journalists use should be adopted into the mainstream. ‘Citizen journalism’ is prominent and important for news coverage of social movements, wars and more. Much of the images and videos accompanying news stories come from social media posts of non-journalists. If everyone can be a journalist in the world of social media, then maybe it’s time everyone be held to the same journalistic standard as journalists. Taking the extra minute to verify information sources before sharing could seriously alter and the spread of misinformation. Frankel’s tools and tactics are useful for everyone—not just journalists.