Surviving the digital age: How to avoid fake news and preserve traditional journalism


Erica Jiang , Staff Writer

When was the last time you read a print newspaper (aside from The Record, of course)? 

As Tweets, Tik Toks, and Instagram stories increasingly dominate teenagers’ screen time, clickbait headlines, fake stories, and misleading content have replaced traditional journalism. According to a 2020 study by the Pew Research Center, 86% of Americans get their news from digital devices more often than from television, radio, or print publications. I’m not immune — DailyMail on Snapchat has a chokehold on me, and I’ve frequently seen my friends read articles on their phones from People Magazine.

While social media-based news outlets are easily accessible, they render us vulnerable to fake news and misinformation. On social media, anyone can publish anything, regardless of accuracy. This anonymity and subsequent impunity has led to a flood of misleading information, making it difficult for readers to separate fact from fiction. In an article published in 2021 by National Geographic, a 13-year old American teen refused a mask from her mother, citing a TikTok that told her, “masks don’t work, and kids don’t even get COVID.”

Another problem with obtaining information on social media is the way platforms’ algorithms prioritize content based on engagement, rather than accuracy or even importance. Competing against rival accounts, news sources on social media prioritize clickbait headlines that elicit extreme responses in viewers over thoughtful and nuanced reporting. As users, we get stuck in echo chambers where we only see perspectives that we agree with.

Journalism plays a crucial role in society to keep the public informed and hold those in power accountable. For example, the start of the #MeToo movement was partially catalyzed by a series of articles that exposed Harvey Weinstein, such as Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades,” in The New York Times. Yet, in our social media-dominated attention economy, traditional news outlets struggle to maintain viewership and relevance. Pew Research reports that American newspapers lost half their newsroom employees between 2008 and 2019. The remaining half make less than $40,000 a year, lower than the nation’s average wage index of $54,100 in 2019.

With the proliferation of misinformation on social media, it is crucial for us as readers to actively support credible journalism. But how do we do that in today’s crowded market? Start by prioritizing credible sources when consuming news: confirm the credibility of the news outlet and author and fact-check the information. In addition, readers must stay aware of their biases and actively seek out new perspectives by reading publications that report from a variety of angles. That way, we can evaluate information to make educated decisions and distinguish credible journalism from the confusion of social media news. 

To ensure that journalists can produce articles that ignite discussion and strengthen the fabric of our democracy, we can also lend our financial support. Subscribe to news outlets, make donations, or even buy merchandise. By backing credible news outlets, readers can help ensure that these outlets have the resources to continue producing high-quality, well-researched content.

I am not asking you to unfollow all the news sources that you see on social media. However, by engaging critically and selectively, you can amplify the reach of reputable journals and their stories to counter the spread of misinformation. Social media is a valuable tool to educate the public, and we can use it to expose friends and family to factual, new perspectives.

As readers, it’s up to us to value journalism and demand accurate, reliable information from the countless media sources we consume across the World Wide Web.