Social Media Fuels False Rumors about News
In the digital age, it has become increasingly difficult to trust the news sources that are the most readily available. For high schoolers especially, the limited free time that many experience leads them straight to the most accessible platform for news to spread: social media. While this can often keep people informed on pop culture, trends and current events, it also leaves the door open for lies and rumors to spread rapidly.
Recently, as tensions between the United States and Iran rose following the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian Major General in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, rumors spread all over social media in the form of jokes, memes and TikTok videos.
While many of these videos were entertaining, they spread false ideas about the tensions between the two nations, painting a picture of an impending World War III and military draft. For students that don’t regularly pay close attention to the current state of foreign affairs, these claims and jokes may have been frightening.
What is even scarier is that for many people, these posts were the only influence in their understanding of what was going on in the world around them. “I was seeing so much about [WWIII] on social media that it made me think that it was actually happening,” said junior Evan Elster. “It happened so quickly that by the time I got home to talk to my parents about it, I hadn’t even had time to check the actual news.”
Another worrying element of this phenomenon is that many people are taking these posts at face value and putting off checking more conventional news outlets for the truth. This is another way that these posts spread; besides being able to potentially go viral, students post these videos because they see such a massive number of similar videos, causing them to believe that what they are seeing is true. The plethora of videos that already exist cause others to further discuss any aspect of the topic that has not been discussed or exhausted, leading to even more videos that are even further from the truth.
“It’s scary to think that people think it’s enough to just look on Instagram or TikTok for their news,” said senior India Behl. “We can’t really tell where the original post came from, so there is no way of knowing where the rumor originated from or who created it.”
On TikTok specifically, where videos can circulate so easily in such a short span of time, simply looking up “WW3” on the app pulls up tens of thousands of videos on the topic. The hashtag has more than 1.6 billion views and the hashtag “draft” has over 1 billion views as well. Many of the videos are lighthearted jokes; however, some are realistic. These highly-edited videos are full of effects such as explosions and gunshots. Even though they still fit in with many of the other popular posts, they do stand out as more fear-inducing and truthful than many of the others.
In general, social media posts continue to become more political and more viral. For students who often listen to NPR or watch reputable news outlets, these posts are understood jokes. However, for students who don’t pay as much attention to what is happening in the world, these memes and videos don’t come anywhere close to presenting the full situation. Especially in the case of US-Iran relations in recent weeks, these posts have avoided the truth and spread lies to high schoolers, and even worse, to middle schoolers and younger kids who are even less likely to watch, listen to or read the news.