NewsNews Literacy Project


Role of opinion shows, social media in spreading misinformation

Posted at 6:00 AM, Jan 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 20:06:11-05

NORFOLK, Va. - The recent election highlighted it, but the spread of misinformation has been a growing problem.

As part of News Literacy Week, News 3 is exploring some of the issues that have led to this point and how we can all work together to be better informed.

“I think we are at a very important, crucial point, [a] tipping point,” Helen Lee Bouygues tells News 3.

As president of the Reboot Foundation, Bouygues studies fake news and critical thinking.

She says part of the problem is social media.

“Their algorithm is such that you do have very much tunnel vision of what's going on and little ability to actually take a step back and say, 'Is this logical? Is this actually a fact or is this an opinion?' Let alone, 'Is this even fake? Is this even an outright lie?'” Bouygues said.

And social media isn’t the only issue.

Recently, Cumulus Media, which has some of the most popular talk radio shows in the country, told its hosts to stop falsely claiming the election was stolen or they could lose their jobs.

“I think it's a good move,” said Megan Duncan, a Virginia Tech media expert.

Duncan says it’s hard to disentangle how much false election claims can be attributed to these shows, but it’s clear some had a role in spreading them to a wider audience and making them credible.

“When those things get repeated and repeated, people tend to believe them, especially when they're from newscasters or talk show hosts or anyone that you can develop a personal relationship with," said Duncan.

She says it’s also hard sometimes for viewers to tell the difference between opinion shows and traditional news as the lines have become more blurred.

“This is the age of journalism as a brand," Duncan said.

Duncan says there is a place for both traditional reporting and opinion shows, but there needs to be some changes.

“We want to be able to inform our audiences of the very basic facts. We also understand that audiences don't have all day to analyze news," said Duncan. "I think where we run into the biggest problems are when we have opinion shows that don't format debate based on ideas or specific policies. That are truly just shouting matches.”

She says having experts on these shows who can describe what's happening in a broader sense can help people see what's at stake and understand the options.

There are also things we can all be doing to be better informed.

“It's very easy for us to do selective thinking because it's comfortable, it's psychologically more reassuring," said Bouygues, "but what's really missing and what's important is to actually think about your own thinking, identify your own cognitive biases and look at different opposing views, which it seems like we're doing less and less as a general population.”

You can learn more about identifying misinformation by clicking here.