Finding the Truth on Facebook

The Thin Line Between Seeing the Picture as a Whole and Falling for Propaganda and Conspiracy

Sometimes when I look up my facebook timeline I have the feeling the world is going nuts. On the one hand I am myself following a lot of — more or less — “news” pages (e.g. a bunch of German and English as well as other international news feeds), on the other I see my facebook friends posting mostly news lately. Rolf Dobelli is in some way right when he says that they are bad (http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/apr/12/news-is-bad-rolf-dobelli). Not only do the things I read mainly cover the bad things happening in the world. I also follow pages which are definitely not suiting my personal opinion, but some of which are driving me mad.

I was lucky I had a teacher in school who taught us students to question every information we get — who published it and for which possible reasons? — and try to find other perspectives on a topic. I do still support this view, but sometimes I have the feeling that people — me included — tend to think that almost everything in traditional media is manipulative and biased. That is why I think it may be important to subscribe to diverse sources, both national and international, to get a broader picture of how things can be looked at. This can make things a little complicated from time to time. If you follow, for example, the New York Times and Russia Today, you may see completely opposed reports. A current example is the coverage of the Baltic Sea fighter jet incident which was, of course, viewed differently be western and Russian media (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/04/13/russian-air-force-buzzed-u-s-navy-destroyer-repeatedly-in-baltic-sea/?tid=sm_fb; http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/13/russian-attack-planes-buzz-uss-donald-cook-baltic-sea?CMP=fb_gu; https://www.rt.com/news/339507-aggressive-interactions-russian-jets/). In cases like this it can be hard to find an own opinion, but I think at least you are able to see how things can be perceived from variable perspectives.

However, some of the facebook sources are even more controversial, offer totally different views than the — more or less — consensus in traditional media and often provide easy answers for complex topics. For some the provided information are simply ridiculous conspiracy theories, but for others they are the missing links to explain all kinds of issues. And the community seems to be growing. I have to admit some years ago I fell for one of these pages, too: The facebook page of Anonymous Kollektiv (https://www.facebook.com/Anonymous.Kollektiv/?fref=ts), which has almost 2m subscribers (some of which are said to be fake). I guess that is because most people think that the page really has to do with the online rebels and hackers of Anonymous (at least that was what I thought in the beginning), but after I thought they may have a point in some of their posts I firstly realised they started ranting against immigrants, the “Merkel regime”, the “world elite” and so on, and secondly some other sources said this page has nothing to do with the actual Anonymous (http://www.spiegel.de/netzwelt/web/facebook-seite-anonymous-kollektiv-nicht-wirklich-anonymous-a-1063829.html; https://merkurist.de/mainz/politik/warum-so-viele-auf-eine-rechte-anonymous-seite-reinfallen_D1U; http://www.mimikama.at/allgemein/in-diesem-falle-darf-man-den-namen-mario-rnsch-nennen/). The terrifying thing is that the numer of subscribers, not only on this but on similar pages, is still increasing (I have unsubscribed but on masochistic days I have a look what htey are up to). And I hope that a large number of them do not believe everything they are writing, at least not all the hateful and inflammatory anti-democratic and inhuman stuff.

Now my point is that just on facebook there is now plenty of ways to get informed. In my opinion it is good to have the opportunity to get news from all different points of view and all around the globe, but access to that much information can also have a negative impact on the reader. He or she might get to know more and other perspectives, but the ambiguity between these perspectives, the flood of negative information and difficulty to decide how much truth is in them can really drive you mad. I already think I may have an eye for picking out the information I want, but of course there is always something to improve. I really hope I am able to learn more about media, questioning and classifying it, in the course of this semester.