The Danger of Misinformation in the Age of Social Media

Now, more than ever, it’s important to take a hard look at the content we consume

Folder graphic by Emily Thiessen.
Folder graphic by Emily Thiessen.

When social media first spread its wings, there was a sense of optimism that people had finally found their voice. Now, with the war in Ukraine, we see the potential of social media to empower, inform and unite people across the world.

Major news platforms like the Washington Post and New York Times have written articles detailing all the ways social media is used to expose and humiliate Russian military personnel, as well as sharing realistic details about what it’s like. is that of being a Ukrainian civilian on the ground.

The reality of disseminating this information, however, is messy – and sometimes dangerous.

We have all been warned of the dangers of misinformation by friends, family and teachers. We like to believe that we are good at spotting it and would never spread it. But with the rise of social media as a source and amplifier of information, how information spreads is controlled by an algorithm that ignores what’s fake or what’s real – an algorithm that only values ​​what’s attracts the most attention.

The New Yorker called the Russian-Ukrainian war the world’s first “TikTok war”. The app has become the most popular platform for sharing videos about the Russian-Ukrainian war – but some of the widely shared videos on the platform, like videos of Ukrainian tanks firing at Russian troops, have been edited , modified or completely faked.

For example, a video of a Russian paratrooper in Ukraine was widely shared on TikTok. A quick fact check or reverse image search will show you that this is actually an Instagram post from 2015.

Using memes to convey information on current issues can also lead to the spread of misinformation. When topics become internet memes, it becomes easier to spread misinformation in favor of delivering a punchline. Memes are sometimes used as a marketing and manipulation tool.

There has also been a growing amount of disinformation: the deliberate spreading of false information for malicious purposes. Sputnik propagated tags such as “criminal Zelensky”, “empire of lies”, “fake news” and “Nazi”.

On February 26, China’s state-sponsored Central Television Station (CCTV) falsely claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had fled Kyiv. Zelensky himself has taken to social media with shaky selfie videos to counter these claims and to document his continued presence in the country.

News outlets Russia Today and Sputnik are reportedly blocked by YouTube in the European Union, while Twitter and Meta – Facebook’s parent entity – have pledged to mark potentially false content as “state-sponsored”.

One of the easiest ways to avoid spreading misinformation is to slow down. Social media platforms are designed to share information quickly, but when it comes to sharing news, it’s important to resist. It’s easy to see a post on your feed, hit the share button, and feel like you’ve done something useful because you’re sharing information.

But if the article, post, or image you shared turns out to be misleading or fake, you’re actually doing more harm than good.

Instead, pause before hitting the share button. Take a moment to look at the information critically. Where is he from? Who posted it? Did the author cite his sources? If it’s a photo or video, does it include context? If you reverse image search, where does that get you?

Slowing down and taking the time to ask these questions can be the difference between raising awareness and spreading misinformation.