Adding fuel to the fire: Social media users spark controversy over the spread of misinformation

Although the benefits and drawbacks of social media usage has been a hot topic throughout the years, rapper Kanye West’s recent antisemitic comments on Twitter have sparked a new controversy. How the spread of misinformation, specifically by verified influencers and celebrities, affects teenagers is a topic that has been put into light following West’s statements. The posts have also ignited a discussion surrounding how social media platforms grant users the ability to speak before they think and how that affects an impressionable audience. On top of this, entrepreneur Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, which was concluded on Oct. 27, has brought up concerns regarding the unclear standard of what can and cannot be said on social media. 


Web of lies:  

From fake news to conspiracy theories, the spread of misinformation on social media has been prevalent since social media platforms began to develop in the early 2000s. Even two decades later, the misinformation issue is still rampant, and situations such as West’s latest Twitter controversy only adds fuel to the fire. 

Working with students who have grown up with technology has allowed school psychologist Christine Kuhl to see the rapid spread of misinformation by both celebrities and the average social media user.

 “I think discerning real, factual information from unreliable sources and false information is difficult and more challenging for [their] generation,” Kuhl said. “Making sure that the sources that you’re getting your information from are credible, is an important piece of learning how to manage social media and the internet.”

Misinformation comes in many forms, one of them being conspiracy theories. A popular conspiracy that science teacher Don Pata has seen on Twitter and Instagram is that the earth is flat. According to Pata, these rumors are perpetuated by influencers who support the false claims that circulate. 

“People will believe things that they read if they perceive they are either from experts, or if they already align with their current viewpoint, even when shown scientific evidence to the contrary,” Pata said. “Then if you get a famous sports figure who also says the same kind of thing, or a famous musical artist, who says the same thing, people who are holding these beliefs that are non-scientific it somehow gives credence to these things, even though they are not true, scientifically speaking.”


Superiority complex:

In the online age of the 21st century, average people have the ability to become influencers and create a platform for themselves where they can be seen and heard by millions of people. Kuhl says the access to such a big audience leads these influencers to feel highly-ranked in comparison to others, specifically when they gain a blue check mark, which deems an influencer as “verified.”

“I think [verification] can make people feel a certain sense of importance, and a little bit of an inflated self esteem,” Kuhl said. “I’m sure it makes some people feel superior but others may want it for a little bit of extra credibility or notoriety.”

Following the conclusion of Musk’s purchase of Twitter, many people, including senior Ray Plieth, foresee changes within the app in the near future. One change that has already been made is the ability to purchase your own verification check mark for $7.99 per month. 

“I do feel like that blue checkmark culture isn’t getting better with the recent purchase of Twitter by Elon Musk and the new checkmarks we can pay [for],” Plieth said. “We’re giving [people] a level of prestige on a public platform that only lends to the harm they can do.”

Celebrities, such as West, seem to display this prestige over the average social media user through theirTwitter posts, according to senior Gaelle Dalmacy. 

“I think [West] does think he’s better than other people by the way he talks,” Dalmacy said. “He referred to himself as God.”


Think before you post: 

Social media can be a helpful tool to connect with people from different backgrounds, and when used correctly it can have many benefits that outweigh the negatives, according to senior Gaelle Dalmacy. 

“I think people like Selena Gomez, who advocates for loving yourself and positivity [is a positive use for social media],” Dalmacy said. “I think that’s a really great thing.”

Although social media has the ability to showcase people that work to spread positive messages, Dalmacy acknowledges that many people often post without thinking of what the possible consequences could be. 

“Once you post something, it’s hard to delete it, a lot of people don’t think things through before they post,” Dalmacy said. “They post something, and don’t think about the consequences it’ll have, then you have to go and defend yourself.” 


Social media and speech:

Amidst the Kanye West controversy, new questions are being asked about what people have the right to say on their social media platforms. For Dalmacy, the balance between freedom of speech and censorship of hate on social media is hard to decipher. 

“People could argue [anything posted is covered under] freedom of speech, but [Kanye] is also saying Anti-Semitic things, and spreading Anti-Semitic rhetoric to his fans, ” Dalmacy said. “It’s complicated, because on one hand, I think that he should not be saying this stuff. But also, how can you censor that?”

There is a strict line between how the government should handle freedom of speech on social media versus how private companies should monitor their apps, according to social studies teacher Daniel Gilleran. 

“I don’t think you can necessarily limit it from a governmental and fundamental perspective,” Gilleran said. “I think that individual private corporations do have a responsibility to make sure that what is disseminated is truthful, that fine line of deciding if it’s hateful.”

The recent transition of leadership for Twitter’s company brings new questions as to how content will be regulated. Musk took over Twitter leaving users, such as Pata, wondering what he will do about erratic users like West. 

“If you just allow people to say whatever they want to say, including hate speech, I think there’s going to be a real problem,” Pata said. “I think that it’ll be bad for the platform, and It’ll be bad for society as a general concept. If we’regoing to have these platforms, where people are gonna be able to express their ideas, we need a referee, someone who tells people like this is appropriate or this is not appropriate. If we don’t have that, then young people don’t learn from the mistakes of others.”

People will believe things that they read if they perceive they are either from experts, or if they already align with their current viewpoint, even when shown scientific evidence to the contrary.

— Don Pata