The Problem with Social Media and “Authoritative” Sources

From Meme Generator

By: William Cawley (@DigiTrey)

In any professional setting, it is important to “look the part.”

People use the “eye test” to judge the relative worth of an individual or group, and the information that they broker. The trouble is, sometimes the eye test is the only test that people use. Information is too often taken at face value.

You see, there are problems with groups who look authoritative on paper, but once you examine their credentials it becomes clear they are far from that.

For instance, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons has a name that exudes medical authority. However, this group has been shown to practice a shady peer-review process for its medical journal and has taken controversial stances within the medical community, such as questioning the link between HIV and AIDS. In this case, “controversial” means going against decades of medical research.

On the other hand, at least the AAPS has actual practicing physicians on its membership rolls. Others, such as the innocuous sounding National Policy Institute, do not even have that going for them. To call NPI the far-right is an understatement. Its stated goal is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of people of European descent in the United States, and around the world.”  One of its members coined the term, “the alt-right.”

Social media have a bad habit of letting news stories generated by these sources outpace the fact-checking process. Facebook, for instance, has had problems with keeping fake news stories out of the news section. This stems from an issue that I covered earlier. Facebook is not a news agency, but it does provide a huge platform. It makes sense that user content would overtake the sifting of an algorithm.

Twitter, lacking this kind of algorithm, is even more prone to spreading fake news or trending topics such as “#whitegenocide.” Again, these types of “news” are bolstered by organizations such as the NPI, despite lacking any type of credibility.

It is important to remember that the best lies have the trappings of a truth.




Lapowsky, I. (2016). The Rogue Doctors Spreading Right-Wing Rumors About Hillary’s Health. Retrieved from

Gorski, D. (2008). The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons: Ideology trumps science-based medicine. Retrieved from

Ellis, E. (2016). How the Alt-Right Grew from an Obscure Racist Cabal. Retrieved from

Yuhas, A. (2016). Facebook Fact-Check: From Hillary’s Health to 9/11, the Latest Lies We Read. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Cawley, W. (2016). Newsflash: Facebook is NOT a News Publisher. Retrieved from

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UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism