Is Social Media To Blame For Our Post Truth World?

Open up your Facebook feed today, and you may see the following: global/local news, cute videos of puppies/kittens/otters/etc, opinion articles, funny videos from LAD bible, and so on. Entertainment and killing time aside, Facebook is useful for another thing: disseminating news.

News today is delivered in bite-sized pieces. Ask anyone of my generation, and even my parents, and they’d say the same thing: They get most of their news from their Facebook feeds.

This is problematic, as just about anyone will agree that the Internet is not the most reliable place to get information (e.g. How many times have you self-diagnosed yourself on the internet, and got afraid of what you saw?). And yet, everyone still does it. Today, most forms of dissemination run through social media, and it is responsible for being the vehicle in which fake news spreads the most.

For example, a man may post a video footage of a fire taking place in a nearby shopping mall on social media. People who see his post will share it, or talk about it. Some may first question the validity of the post, but either way the damage is already done, as other people will have started sharing it, setting the ball rolling.

Unlike journalism in the past, there is no fact checking or going through the editor before hitting ‘post’, and this allows more and more fake news to spread.

And even when we look at journalism today, it is a little different than from what it was like 20 years ago. Today we have a ‘buzzfeedication’ of news, where “it is becoming all about celebrities, snippets, gossip, and lists of entertaining things.” Journalistic integrity is thrown out the window, and what comes in instead is ratings and money; people spread false news to get the most clicks, and in turn to generate the most revenue.

We see that clearly in Black Mirror’s The Waldo Moment, where the audience and the media disregard actual credentials of the other contestants to be entertained and to get more ratings and viewership. And more disturbingly, we see that played out during the most recent elections, where allegations were made against both parties, Trump and Hillary, with media outlets lapping this up.

Just looking at the recent inauguration of Donald Trump proves this. The event produced countless memes, a dramatisation of Michelle Obama’s reaction towards the Trumps, ‘body language experts’ analysing Melania Trump’s behaviour during the ceremony (“She’s just a trophy wife!”), and to how many sexist actions audiences could dissect from Trump.

A meme created from the one event could’ve been taken out of context, and veer even further from the truth, just like a game of Chinese whispers. Yes, it is human nature to speculate, spread rumours, and engage in conspiracy theories. But social media is like an uncontrollable beast, allowing such things to spread with just the click of a button. Though fake news and conspiracy theories have been ever-present throughout human history, social media has greatly facilitated the spread of falsehood and biased opinions. With an access to a wide array of information and voices online, what is the most heard is sometimes the crudest argument. Therefore, social media is the most liable vehicle for fake news to spread.

Because social media is such a powerful tool for dissemination, it is crucial that false news, and news in general, should be moderated or flagged to show its verifiability (as it is currently in the works by Facebook), and as global citizens of the 21st century, we need to be especially aware and increasingly skeptical of the type of news we encounter online.