Filtering misinformation online becomes obstacle for student activists

As students become more involved in social media activism, the spread of misinformation has also grown



A post from the student-led “Intersectional Activist” Instagram account

As social media activism becomes more mainstream, spreading misinformation and blatant inaccuracies with the purpose of influencing others has become more prevalent.

Even though students think they have the accurate information for their Instagram or Snapchat stories, biased sources are abundant and hard to dodge.

On social media sites like Instagram and Facebook, algorithms are tailored for specific appeals and views. These sites only show a user posts that are determined to be of interest, almost always within the user’s political spectrum.

“That can be really dangerous if you’re trying to become an informed person,” said sophomore Sam Gordon, who frequently engages in social activism herself.

Students can find obscure sources that match with their political views and re-share it for their peers to see, causing the spread of misinformation online like a virus.

“Sometimes people will post stuff to help themselves,” said junior UNICEF Club co-head AJ Wise. “And I think that sometimes that may be what the person believes. And whether it’s true or not, that is their reality or that is their perception which kind of turns into their reality.” 

Consequently, students fed misinformation from untrustworthy sources online that corroborate their views don’t look into the sources behind the news they are accessing. Sharing those posts with their friends and family who have similar beliefs spreads those inaccuracies online.

“Sometimes it’s tricky because when we see something that we are inclined to agree with, we don’t want to fact check it,” said Gordon.

Many students can attest to seeing their peers post to bolster their public image without putting in the needed research.

While raising awareness is helpful, it can be perceived as performance activism. The next step is taking action for what you are posting about. 

According to Maya Crystal, a senior who dedicates their Instagram account to graphics and posts about social issues, much of the activism found online is performance activism.

Crystal said that after posting online, the next step forward is signing petitions and making sure to vote as well as ensuring that friends and family are registered to vote too. To even make a more direct impact, Crystal said to make sure to contact representatives about issues that are important.

Although performance activism has some benefits in educating, activists believe it’s a small step to more impactful and effective change.

“I do think it has its benefits to like, some extent, whereas, like, I would rather people be posting about it than just not having these conversations at all,” said Gordon.

So what is the proper procedure to posting reliable information online? It all starts with education and double-checking sources.

“I also love to see like, who originated the content because I want to make sure it’s coming from good sources, people who are involved in activism or who are in the communities impacted by it,” said Crystal.

As social media use among teens rises exponentially, so does civic engagement online. 

While social media activism has been on the rise for the last several years, Wise believes that COVID has fast-tracked social media activism online.

“I think it also coincides with events that happen, for example, George Floyd at the beginning of COVID,” said Wise. “So I think that major events that have hit the news and all these sources that students pay attention to, I think that was definitely a part of it.”

More students are now exploring what opportunities they have available to make a more direct impact in the name of activism.

One solution to this are clubs like UNICEF, in which students are given multiple chances to fundraise and cooperate with other students. 

“We provide our club members ample opportunities to show leadership and to take initiative,” said Wise. “If they want to start a fundraiser, they run it by us, we’re more than happy to let them take point and kind of figure it out themselves.”

A common misconception is that people think they must pour all their energy and resources into activism. Youth activists like Crystal tend to disagree.

“All you need to do is find something you care about,” said Crystal. “And then find a group working on that issue. You can commit as little or as much time as you want.”