Do you think you are sufficiently knowledgeable about what is happening around you? What makes you self-assured that you are?

According to Pew Research Center, 62% of the U.S. population get their news from social media; 44% of the 67% Facebook users report that they use the social networking site for news. This leaves Facebook leading social media as a source of news. The study also shows that the majority of Facebook news users accidentally get exposed to news while doing other activities.

With the role news media play in informing societies in a democracy, this brings to question the status of knowledge among a group of individuals or a community that depend solely on its Facebook News Feed for news.

A study by Philipp Müller, Pascal Schneiders and Svenja Schäfer (2016) have shown that mere exposure to news gives the feeling of being informed which might not necessarily be true. It is the “illusion of knowledge“; being exposed to an abundance of information that is not necessarily accurate or credible leading to an increased feeling of being informed. This is subjective knowledge.

There are factors that can potentially contribute to the “illusion of knowledge”: the source(s) of information an individual use, the extent to which an individual perceive him/herself to be knowledgeable (which impacts the information seeking behavior), how far is the individual aware of their “news bubble“, and their limited access to information because of location, language and culture.

An individual’s subjective knowledge can positively correlate with their actual knowledge when they read full length articles and seek further information rather than just flick through content.  The news items you encounter and skim on Facebook, as a source of information, are the furthest thing from being sufficient. They basically present a headline, a picture and a couple of lines from the story, which appear on your News Feed. This is not enough for individuals to be fully aware and critically knowledgeable. Besides, it takes away from the importance of analysis which should eventually occur by deconstructing the article for credible, accurate and reliable information

So, how does this impact people’s perception about their level of knowledge? The often accidental exposure to news on your Facebook news feed can give a feeling of being knowledgeable by activating the scheme in your brain that relates to a specific issue and to “meta cognitive scheme of being well informed“, however this does not necessarily mean that you processed the information about this issue and turned it into knowledge. The sheer quantity of information and news items existent on Facebook is the reason behind users’ false feeling of being well informed regardless of the number of news items they actually read. This especially applies to news about current affairs that is circulated in a manner characterized by an immediate nature and not necessarily fact-checked.  

How is this relevant to the idea of the “news bubble” then? It is a fact that there are many variables that affect access to news and information. Among these are the language(s) a person is familiar with as well as the location from which news are searched for. Consequently, and especially with the personalized content suggestions we receive, people should be aware that there is more going on beyond the borders. Attempting  to unfold the content beyond one’s limitations and to allow people to explore past news filters Unfiltered.News is a “data visualization” that utilizes data from Google News to allow for access to news topics from different regions. On a daily basis Unfiltered.News gives you information about topics that are popular globally; then you can judge whether these exist and are reported in your location. This website seeks to broaden individuals’ scope of knowledge about world events.  

Ultimately, an essential component of knowledge is where and how you seek information. Despite the positive impact social networks news can have on motivating younger generations for engaging with news; it can be a double edged sword for both users and news organizations. Thus, if you are counting solely on your Facebook news items for knowledge without further information seeking, it is time to reconsider!

Author: Sally Tayie


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