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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Cite Buzzfeed and its peers with caution

Published: September 12, 2014
Section: Opinions

Buzzfeed and websites like it are fine for taking personality quizzes in the third row of a lecture hall during class, but they are not good sources of information. It’s such a basic statement, “Don’t get your news from places that are decidedly not news,” but it’s something a lot of people find hard to digest.

I am not saying that the mainstream media is an unbiased wealth of accurate information, but major media outlets do have systems of quality control built in. When they make mistakes, and they do, corrections have to be published in the next issue and articles are more carefully vetted in the future.

What’s the point of knowing not to consider the unholy Buzzfeed-Upworthy-unverified social media account trio as sources of reliable information? First, hearing something from one of those places doesn’t make it inaccurate by default, even if the same ground is covered by a more reputable outlet. If you’re a Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr user who gets news solely from your platform of choice, it’s important to preface whatever it is that you have to contribute to a conversation with, “I’m not sure this is true, but I heard … ” Speaking authoritatively on a subject is fine if you’re an expert or well-versed in the subject. However, simply talking with confidence about a subject with no regard for the validity of your information source is dishonest.

Inaccurate information is easy to disseminate and almost impossible to counter once it’s been spread. First impressions are often lasting, and even without appealing to journalistic integrity, misinformation often serves some agenda.

I’m not covering new ground here. As long as there have been ways to report information, people have twisted words to suit their own purposes. However, I think it’s something to guard against because it’s not inevitable.

It’s unreasonable for me to expect citations as claims are flung around in conversation, and I’m not asking for that. I’m asking for a greater awareness of the fact that certain pieces of information may not be watertight. Striving to be as accurate as possible isn’t just a goal in debate or something to keep in mind when writing an academic paper; it is a something we should strive for in our daily lives.

Recently, I shopped a class taught by a relatively inexperienced professor. She pulled up a Buzzfeed article, something to the tune of “The Most Outrageous YouTube Comments” in order to make a point about bigotry. Intolerance, unfortunately, isn’t all that hard to look for, and there are thousands of ways to draw attention to it that aren’t curated examples of inflammatory internet comments. “Never read the comments” is well on its way to becoming the Eleventh Commandment.

If you share Buzzfeed articles as a way to spread news, I am not dissuading you from doing so. I just ask you to consider these sources for what they are.