The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday October 28th

Column: Read before you retweet

<p>DTH Photo Illustration. A student pulls up the Twitter app on their phone. With UNC's campus shutdown in the spring, more and more students have turned to social media for activist work.</p>
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DTH Photo Illustration. A student pulls up the Twitter app on their phone. With UNC's campus shutdown in the spring, more and more students have turned to social media for activist work.

If, like me, you spend a significant amount of your day on Twitter, you may have noticed some changes to your feed lately.

When you try to retweet a link you haven’t visited before, Twitter adds a label warning which says “headlines don’t tell the full story” and encourages you to read the story for yourself. The intended purpose of the change is to make it harder to share misinformation as we approach the climax of a contentious election season.

But the feature has angered Republican lawmakers, who claimed the feature only appeared on articles from right-wing outlets, accusing Twitter of censoring conservative voices.

Twitter refuted the claim, saying that the label appears on every tweet, regardless of the publication or the article. A fact check from Reuters confirmed the warning applies to news sources across the political spectrum.

Sharing articles without context can be dangerous, and headlines are often misleading. Even I’ve been guilty of retweeting incomplete information on Twitter without thinking twice about it — especially if the tweet contains something funny or shocking.

Yes, the feature seems stupid and probably a little bit annoying. It makes retweeting harder (temporarily!), but it’s a small price to pay as we continue to stare down the threat of foreign interference in the November election. (Bonus: Every time you use the feature, you can bask in the satisfaction of knowing you’re probably making a Republican angry. In my experience, the GOP’s irrational hatred of something usually means it’s working. Just saying.)

This isn’t the only change that Twitter has made in anticipation of the upcoming presidential election. Twitter will now add warning labels to tweets that contain false or misleading information. Users who attempt to retweet misleading content will receive a prompt pointing them to credible information before they are able to amplify it. 

Additionally, tweets with misleading information labels from U.S. political figures and other high-profile U.S. accounts will be further hidden behind warning screens. 

Why is this important? Well, research shows that misinformation often starts at the top. A Harvard study found that political and media elites are largely to blame for the spread of misinformation. And, unsurprisingly, Trump’s tweets, press conferences and interviews play the biggest role.

“We found no examples where clickbait factories, fake pages (Russian or otherwise), or Facebook’s algorithms could explain any peak in engagement that was not better explained as having been set in motion and heavily promoted by political figures and elite right-wing media personalities, and disseminated to millions by major media outlets,” study co-author Yochai Benkler wrote in an article for Columbia Journalism Review.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have long been criticized for their lax approach to misinformation and hate speech. While these changes don’t absolve them of that — there’s still a long way to go — it’s a step in the right direction. 

Think before you tweet (or retweet) and don’t believe everything you see online. Right now, it’s more important than ever. 

@paigemasten

@dthopinion | opinion@dailytarheel.com

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