What if you had to rely on social media for news?

Pictured is a social media post created by someone depicting Spearfish School Board member Nathan Hoogshagen in a manner untruthful. The post circulated before the April school board election and was brought to his attention by a friend who thought it was a truthful poster. Courtesy images

SPEARFISH — What if there were no newspapers? What if you had to rely on social media for news?

As we all know, just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s true.

One Spearfish resident found out how quickly internet falsities can spread.

As Nathan Hoogshagen was getting ready for April’s Spearfish School Board election he posted a photo of himself on his Facebook page.

The picture was of him holding his election sign that read, “April 13th Hoogshagen for school board”.

Some days later, a friend contacted him about a post on social media that depicted Hoogshagen and an apparent statement from him.

“Please vote for me! I will ensure NO MASKS required, with LESS LGTBQ nonsence (sic) in our schools, LESS SCIENCE like ‘climate change’ and ‘vaccines’ and MORE emphasis on CHRISTIANITY and FREEDOM and a TRUE American Learning System”.

“I was very surprised and to be honest, a little disappointed. A friend of mine saw it shared around on Instagram. She screenshot it and sent it to me. She was shocked because she assumed it was a truthful poster,” Hoogshagen told the Pioneer.

He said his friend wanted to get together with him to talk about his beliefs, because she couldn’t believe that he would say some of those things. He replied back saying he was glad she was shocked he would say things like that.

“Because I didn’t make that poster and those aren’t necessarily the things that I believe,” Hoogshagen said. “The more I thought about it, the more disappointed I was. Because I believe in Spearfish we have a really great group of people who are respectful and can agree to disagree with people if they have differing opinions. We don’t need to get down in the mud and drag people through it in the middle of an election cycle.”

The rise of social media gave people around the country, and the world for that matter, a phenomenal way to keep in touch, share photos and videos of their lives, and communicate in ways that texting or email couldn’t quite match. However, it didn’t take long for social media to be used in nefarious ways.

“Fake news,” as it was dubbed, or in other words, false information, spread like wildfire through memes and misinformation campaigns. Perhaps never before could such untruthful information be spread so quickly to such a wide audience. It has got so problematic, that media outlets have had to increase their fact checking departments. In fact the Associate Press even launched a “Fact Check” section dedicated to dispelling inaccurate and misleading information. See more on this topic in Wednesday’s Black Hills Pioneer.

With social media, there is no accountability, and keyboard crusaders can quickly type a message and share it. That post can get shared by followers whose own followers can in turn share the initial post.

And suddenly people like Hoogshagen are staring at themselves on the computer.

It was Hoogshagen’s first campaign. He had been appointed by the Spearfish School Board to fill Scott Odenbach’s vacant seat for after he was elected a state representative.

He said the mudslinging irked him more than the words that were said.

“It’s bothered me more to think there are people in our community who think that way and would be so disrespectful as to lie and make up things about someone else … instead of debating the issues, getting the truth out there about what people think, something like that.

So why would someone create the slanderous post about a local election?

“I’ve thought a lot about that. I think it’s a telltale sign of what is happening at a national level with the way our elected officials treat each other,” he said. “You look at what is happening in D.C. and you have AOC (Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.) saying stuff happened over here she’s lying about. You’ve got (Sen.) Mitch McConnell saying ‘well, we’re not going to do this, so and so did this. It’s people on both sides, pointing the finger, lying about what people are saying, and trying to assassinate peoples’ character instead of debating the issues at hand.”

So, what if you had to rely only on social media for news?

“Unfortunately, I think most people do, and that’s the problem,” he said.

Hoogshagen said he is a part of numerous social media groups, and in each group, “There are always people on there who are what I call ‘gas lighters,’” he said. “They are always going to throw gas on a fire and are going to share that post, and they are never going to vet the information. And that’s how so much of this information gets out there. I think it is so important for people, before they share that post on Facebook, Instagram, whatever, to take that five minutes and do the research and make sure what they are sharing is truthful.”

“For instance in my case, if that had spread wider than it had, that made me look like a completely different person than what I am,” he added. “Thankfully, it gave me an opportunity to put stuff out and say, ‘actually, this is who I am, and this is how I respond to things.’”

And unfortunately, he said, too many people share a post on social media that has incorrect information.

“People have a duty to actually vet the information they are giving out,” Hoogshagen said. “I am going to give the Pioneer a ton of credit. You guys aren’t like the New York Post, or the LA Times, or the Washington Times where you are posting retractions everyday because you let a story out, you know wasn’t not truthful, and they you post a retraction, and you do it on Page 11 down at the bottom in fine print. ... The Pioneer does a great job of reporting the facts of what’s happening and letting people make their own informed decisions with the correct and accurate information at hand.”

As for his brush with “fake news,” “I would still be interested in meeting with the person who made the poster, to have coffee with them and clear the air,” he said. “If they feel that they want to get together and talk about it again, I don’t have any intention of releasing who that person is, but I don’t like leaving unresolved conflict out there.”

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