How can you tell fact from fiction in what you read on social media these days? The truth is, it is getting ever harder. We are spoon-fed misinformation on a daily basis and each little morsel is added to the soup bowl of deception. Before you know it you are passing on untruths to your own community, unaware. Many of your connections will take the same article, and repost it again, and again and so the cycle continues. Before you know it, a contagious case of misperception has broken out.
But how dangerous is fake news? News sources that feed your emotions are very addictive and once a post, a tweet or an article has appealed to your passionate side, you want to share that emotion with others.
But don’t be so quick to click – we should verify the source of the information and do some research before we continue pressing the send button. We each have a responsibility to stop the spread of fake news, which brings me on to the host sites of this news – should social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter have a greater responsibility for the spread of misinformation? They are the conduits for such untruths and have created a platform for the information to go viral, very, very quickly. They are now, even if unwittingly, the digital equivalent to the traditional newspaper stand.
If you work on the basis of the traditional view of ‘any publicity is good publicity’, then are some of these ‘fake’ news items actually created and spread with the intent of the expected outcome by those craving fame? I would say absolutely yes!
Then there are the political information spreaders who have an agenda to bad-mouth others through made up news to better their causes, whereby the victims of the lies could do without that sort of publicity.
Facebook, Twitter and the like do have a responsibility here – they fund their sites by accepting bids to advertise and whilst they claim to hold no affiliation with those media outlets or autocratic countries, the perception from the general public is that they clearly have a responsibility of endorsing or withdrawing such advertising. Twitter, for example, are no longer accepting advertisements from ‘Russia Today’ due to the Russian Election scandals and I don’t think any of us have missed the Zuckerberg revelations in recent months – so we clearly do hold these ‘media outlets’ accountable.
The conclusion to this is that social media sites don’t actually generate the fake news, but they do serve it up to us in the soup bowl and therefore they have a responsibility. But therefore we, as the data consumers, must also exercise diligence to explore the provenance of such claims.