Social Media Articles Bias Reader Perception of News

By Brooke Schultz

We all know what anger feels like: be it a quickening of the heart or a flush of heat that prickles the skin, it is palpable. Scientifically, it starts in the amygdala, the portion of the brain which controls emotion. It, according to, causes the mind to sharpen, but it also causes the act now, think later response.

So what happens when you see things like: Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement; Trump Offering Free One-Way Tickets to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Want to Leave America; FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide.

Whatever aisle you’re on, those headlines may elicit something in you: a feeling of outrage that the Pope may show a certain political affiliation or that Clinton may be linked to murder.

Fake news ­— for this story, that’s what we’ll call it — triggers something in us because it keys into our anger — it makes us click the share button before we dive in, assess the information, and fact-check it.

With nearly 2 billion active monthly users, Facebook is the social network where, according to, 44 percent of Americans say they get their news.

In the pre-election tension, several newscasters reported on fake news, later retracting or apologizing for the continued circulation of false information. According to Newseum, most of these stories trended on Facebook, and therefore were consumed by billions of people.

In an attempt to cut down on these stories, Facebook teamed up with Politifact, a Pulitzer-prize winning fact-checking website, in December. In April, Poltifact said that they had written more than “80 fact-checks about fake news stories,” and found that most times, the claims sound believable, especially to those who want to believe them.

During one of the rare occasions I found myself on Facebook during the election, I shared a link to an article I found particularly interesting. No comment, just a link. I was met with instant replies, clearly typed before they’d actually read the story. (No, Aunt Eleanor, you most certainly did not read a 3,000 word story three minutes after I posted the link. I see you.)

The comments were often babble.

When asked simply to back up that information, I was either given, “Because it’s not!” or a link to a site or an article with no real sources, no concrete evidence. In many cases, it may be a website discussing a book, which itself was written by someone only somewhat related to the situation, which had not even been released yet.

“How can they believe this?” I thought to myself as I considered deleting my account. “Where is the logic?”

At first, I wondered if it was because of Washington College — is my education just an expensive way of vetting news? Finding sources and backing up points is embedded in writing an A paper, after all.

More likely, if your relatives are anything like mine, their proliferation of fake media is because they’re triggered by their anger. In the same vein, I was, too. I shared the story —though, I did actually read it — because it had shocked something in me.

Because, on top of igniting that fight or flight response in us, anger can be a motivating force to bring change.

When it comes to vetting what comes across your Facebook feed, utilize the anger-management skills from when you get stuck behind a very bad driver, or when you stub your toe: walk away from the situation until you cool down. Recognize the fact that it makes you angry. Then get to work.

Newseum does offer some pointers on assessing the source. They suggest searching key facts, people, or images from the story to see if it appears elsewhere. Think about the evidence included in the story — are there stats, studies, examples, primary sources? Consider how the story is written — if it has a calm, clear, collected manner to it (not WRITTEN LIKE AN ANGRY FACEBOOK POST), then that’s a good sign. Consider if it’s an opinion piece — so, something like this — or a news story. If it’s the latter, is there a clear bias (i.e. how does it use partisan labels, and how often)? This should help you effectively sort out fake news.

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