Professors, students now double-checking politically misleading content

New function allows Twitter users to report content for being misleading about a political election

Twitter now allows all of its users to report content they feel may be misleading about a political election.

The company, along with other social media giants, is working now more than ever to cut down on the amount of misinformation spreading from people who use their sites, especially when it comes to political elections.

Students feel as though Twitter is more progressive when it comes to rules and regulations and understanding its power as a social media giant.

According to the Pew Research Center, 38% of Twitter users are between 18 and 29 years old.

Twitter has already created a website that redirects people to credible sources about the 2020 census, and it has established a rule that says that any synthetic or manipulated content cannot be shared.

In a tweet, the company said that their newest function, which makes it harder for people to share content that might be misleading about an election, "has been an important aspect of our efforts to protect the health of the Twitter conversation for elections around the globe."

Content that is labeled as misleading about a political election will be reviewed by the company like any other content that is reported. 

With elections starting in Arizona on March 10 and continuing through November, the function is important to students and faculty who may be voting for the first time this year or who are still contemplating their vote.  

"If it's utilized properly it could be incredibly important," said Robert McDonald, a freshman studying nursing. "If facts can be verified and lies can be identified in an easily accessible way, that will be massive in the upcoming election."

Students who are not as politically involved as others believe that the function could make it hard to get any information at all about political elections. 

"I think it will affect timelines and feeds a lot," said Kay Angela Adversario, a freshman studying nursing. 

Adversario said that people who report content might have more malicious intent than protecting the minds of young people and social media users. Adversario also worries about people mass-reporting content about specific candidates or information.

Professors at ASU who teach students about social media, political elections and government are somewhat unaware of Twitter as a platform and the intricacies of the safety precautions on the site.

"Any mechanism that will help figure out what is accurate and what is 'fake' news is very important in today's campaign environment," said Kim Fridkin, foundation professor at the School of Politics and Global Studies, in an email. 

Fridkin teaches campaigns and elections, and new and legacy media in American politics. She has told her students about online fact-checking resources and becoming news literate. 

"People need to be proactive and use the various tools on the internet to assess whether the information is accurate," Fridkin said in an email. 

Some professors agree with Adversario's perspective and think that there could be unintended consequences of the function if bad actors are given the opportunity to shut down speech.

"I think that (the function) will help, but we'll have to see," said Dan Gillmor, a professor of practice at the Cronkite School, said. 

Gillmor advises students in the News Co/Lab, a project through the Cronkite School that works to advance media literacy and create technology to aid in transparency. 

"There is no single thing that solves the problem of misinformation," Gillmor said. "But Twitter should not get to decide what is true and what is false."

Gillmor added that social media has some influence over political elections, but it "may be overstated."

According to a research study done by arXiv, 76% of political candidates for the May 7, 2015, U.K. election used Twitter, while only 63% of political candidates used the platform for the June 8, 2018, election. 

While a number of politicians use social media to promote themselves and their message, bad actors who share misinformation are not always anonymous users.

"I am personally sure that more misinformation comes from the media," Gillmor said. "But anything that we can do collectively is a good thing."

Gillmor teaches his students in his digital media literacy class, and urges others, to use personal judgment with information from social media about something as crucial as an election. He hopes that social media users, especially those in college, should not automatically assume anything is true or false. 


Reach the reporter at pjhanse1@asu.edu and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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