Why M'sian youths using social media for information is worrying

THE usage of social media as a primary source of information is worrying, especially in academia.

Staking research mainly on social media, for instance, may dilute the quality of one’s knowledge, experts warn, cautioning that the veracity of social media is something that students need to be aware of and constantly question.

Universiti Malaya educational foundation and humanities head Dr Azni Yati Kamaruddin said social media platforms are generally unreliable sources of information.

“The content is made just to get viewers and ratings for the respective social media user’s account. In fact, some of the content is fake and not suitable at all for educational purposes,” she told StarEdu.

Social media is also a source of distraction in the learning process, Azni said.

Using social media to search for information may lead students down a rabbit hole of unrelated content – like cat videos, for example.

“This will slow down and hinder the learning process for those students. There are also some students who are not interested in some subjects and when they are bored, they will be occupied with their respective social media accounts,” Azni cautioned.

Sunway University communication department head Dr Padma Pillai said social media should be excluded from academic research to prevent misinformation.

“This goes back to educating students about the do’s and don’ts of academic research and writing. Students must be educated about legitimate and illegitimate sources of information for academic research,” she said.

Padma said credibility is a major bone of contention for social media platforms.

“The legitimacy of information being shared is unknown and where the information was originally sourced from is unverifiable. Hence, soliciting information from these media at face value may be detrimental, what more if it is used for academic purposes,” she said.

Credible materials such as textbooks, journals and newspapers should be the go-to for students in their lessons and research.

“These are documented evidences where the source of information could be referred to at any point. As long as they are cited, students will not be caught in a situation where the authenticity of their information will be doubted or questioned,” Padma explained.

Padma: Credibility is a  major bone of contention for social media platforms.Padma: Credibility is a major bone of contention for social media platforms.

Azni highlighted how textbooks usually go through a vetting process before they are deemed suitable for use in schools and universities.

“School textbook writers are made up of expert teachers of each subject who need to undergo an interview session before being selected.

“The content and information of the textbook draft will also be scrutinised and commented by other expert teachers and editors. Only after going through an improvement discussion process will the textbook be released,” she said.

Curbing misinformation

The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC), citing a 2020 survey, revealed that 74.3% of people with online access use the Internet to search for information.

“The widespread adoption of fixed and mobile broadband, with 41.9% and 124.1% penetration rates, respectively, among the Malaysian public has enabled information to be accessed directly on Internet-enabled sources,” the MCMC said in an email reply to StarEdu.

These sources, the commission said, included social media and personal messaging services.

In the fight against fake news, the fact-checking portal sebenarnya.my was established in 2017 as a single reference point for the public to verify information and news that have socio-economic and security impact on the country.

“It was designed with a view to encourage the culture of critical thinking and shared responsibility. The portal recorded an average of 4.68 million hits a month, which shows that the Malaysian public is now more sensitive and aware of the risk of misinformation and disinformation,” the commission said.

Misinformation, however, is something that is synonymous with social media. Over the years, fake news has been shared across these virtual platforms.

A 2021 study by Facebook revealed that fake news obtained more clicks than real news on the popular social media platform.

Analysing a sample of over 2,500 pages, researchers from New York University in the United States and the Université Grenoble Alpes in France discovered that misinformation content generated six times more engagement on Facebook than verified news stories.

The study findings, which were first reported in The Washington Post, showed that pages which published the most fake news received more frequent “Likes”, and generated more shares and comments.

The study was conducted between August 2020 and January 2021, during the US presidential election period.

Closer to home, caretaker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob recently warned certain quarters against ruining social harmony and peace in the country by spreading fake news, especially on social media.

Be smart

But like it or not, social media is here to stay.

“Traditional” digital tools such as web search engines and online encyclopaedias are already taking a backseat as a source of information, as Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – receive formal education in schools and universities.

Perak native Keerat Kaur Wathaneven even relies on social media when deciding where to eat.

“When I want to figure out whether a restaurant is good or not, I go to TikTok to see if I can find any good reviews.

“Social media tends to be more authentic and individualised in that sense,” said the private university student.

And Keerat isn’t the only one.

Google’s internal data revealed that nearly 40% of Gen Z users prefer to use social media for Internet search, instead of Google Search and Maps.

As social media is easily accessible and convenient, it becomes a place for information search that is ever dynamic and evolving, said Padma.

“It is at their fingertips,” she said matter-of-factly.

Azni: It’s important to use verifiable, reputable sources to fact-check information.Azni: It’s important to use verifiable, reputable sources to fact-check information.On Azni’s part, she believes that more credit should be given to the younger generation when it comes to discerning fact from fiction.

“As a digitally-literate generation, Gen Z may understand how to evaluate sources and identify fake news better than older generations who are not familiar with the technology,” Azni said.

The information found on social media, however, should not be the be-all and end-all. Students should only use it to complement other reputable reading materials, she said.

“By double-checking a claim, students can verify whether or not certain information is true. It’s important to use verifiable, reputable sources to fact-check information.

“Students also need to realise that situations in the online world are not always true, authentic or trustworthy. Distinguishing between what is fake and what is true is very important,” she said.

Padma added that social media could actually enhance a student’s learning process. It might even expand their perspectives on various subject matters.

“New perspectives could be discovered that would create new avenues for further research.

“Take social media with a pinch of salt. Verify the information solicited before accepting it as truth,” she concluded.


Always verify...

“Information on the Internet can be altered to suit one’s belief so I always look for official statements from the authorities and experts that are published by credible news media outlets. I only use social media to understand people’s perspectives and opinions and to know about the latest happenings. It gives me a general overview of a particular issue, which helps me make a stand.” – Nur Alia Irdina Rosdi

“I usually use news sites for the latest reports, but social media is much faster as posts are uploaded quickly and in real time. In an instant, millions of comments pop up as people check their feeds. To confirm that what I’ve read is true, I trawl the Internet for reports from trusted news sites.” – Hayley Poh

“Although event details are brief, I go to social media for accounts from people who have first-hand experience.” – She Jia Chua

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