It may not surprise regular readers to know that I don’t spend much time frequenting social media spaces despite working in the technology industry. Up until 2016, my primary beef with platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram was a mix of privacy concerns and disdain for banal content that had to be sifted constantly for relevant information. When I participate, it’s with purpose and definitely clinical in nature. This approach seems even more justified now with recent reports of Facebook’s undue influence on last year’s elections, and it would seem that Americans aren’t the only ones getting tricked by fake news on Facebook, and in some cases, with much more dire consequences.
“But I needs my Facebook!”
Social media plays a critical role in the non-profit I support – our success in fundraising and spreading awareness comes largely through posting on Facebook. But as I have repeatedly said over many years, the Internet makes it increasingly difficult to separate fact from fiction, and it’s very clear that some folks are determined to exploit this ambiguity for anything but altruistic pursuits. The spread of fake news on Facebook is even more insidious primarily for its influence on the masses. Around the world, even more so than in the US, people have an overwhelming tendency to see the information pushed out on Facebook as “truth”, especially in nations where traditional media outlets are state-run or mistrusted, primarily because it often comes by way of a friend or relative, i.e. someone they trust. Where someone would be inclined to view a news piece from an established news agency with skepticism, that same story regurgitated by a friend or loved one would get a free pass on fact-checking.
It’s pretty clear that this is one Pandora’s box we won’t be able to close. Facebook and other internet companies are struggling to control the monsters they created – the dual-edged sword of the Internet that facilitates the spread of information greases the skids for all information with zero regard for integrity or morality. As you may have guessed, the latter two traits require humans to judge, and as even the biggest internet companies are finding out, this is like a child standing in front of a fire hose. They are getting soaked and knocked down by a seemingly unstoppable force.
There is no easy fix for this, but if every human were to do two things, we might prevail against the liars and crooks seeking to exploit our naive trust in the Internet: view social media with a healthy dose of skepticism and approach all viewpoints with an open mind. Blindly accepting every Facebook postings as truth is a one-way ticket to getting tricked.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net