Social Media and Fake News
Growing up in a strict family with only one best friend at a time and having a horrible self-image, it was difficult to be social. I was very shy and insecure and in lot of ways I still am. Real life interaction was not my strong suit. At work, I try not to give my work interactions too much influence or I run the risk of “taking my work home” and stressing myself and my husband out over work issues. Even though I believe face to face interactions have the greatest impact on a person, I don’t count it as much of an impact because of the previous statement. Whether or not that is actually true remains to be seen. I consider the face to face time I have with my husband to be the most important part of my day so I ideally want to give that interaction my best. I interact with my social media friends as well daily. My internet interactions have dramatically dropped since I got married. In fact, I met my husband online back in 2003, which I will talk more about later. We developed a relationship online but decided to keep it friendly. After 8 years of being basically internet pen pals, we decided to take the next step and as all good brown boys and girls, we asked our parents if it was ok to meetup. Long story short, we met and 2 years later got married.
I did not have access to a home computer until I turned 18 (born 1980) so the internet was a new and exciting thing. Dial-up modems and AOL online was where it was at! I quickly found myself connected to people all over the world through the Yahoo! Chat client in 2003 (where I met Mr. husband). The attention I got from all those people was addicting, I thrived online. They couldn’t see me and all my flaws. They laughed at my humor and wished me well on my birthday. I used the Thomas Theorem before I even knew what it was. I created a reality of myself to these people by portraying myself a fun-loving confident person. Most people I chatted to online I kept myself guarded in that I rarely gave personal information besides my first name. If after a certain amount of time of chatting I felt more at ease with a person, I would confide in them more than my family.
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I felt I was not able to talk to my parents about those issues in my life and these people online became my friends. That is how my husband I connected. We felt that our connection was real, natural and more emotional than physical (because you can’t really tell how you will react to a person physically online). That said, I would rather confide in a person online I have a developed relationship with even though I never met them than a stranger I met on the street. As far as saying something to someone’s face what I have posted online, I am guilty of saying things about people that I wouldn’t dare say to their face and if I don’t know them in “real life” then it is that much more easier to dehumanize and insult. I believe everyone who has used the internet has done this in some way. Behind the screen, it feels easier to voice unbridled opinions since we do not have an immediate consequence in front of us. We cannot see who we are speaking to or in fact whose feelings we are hurting.
Social media is a two-edged sword. It can do wondrous things bringing people together or lay waste to everything it touches in fractions of seconds by creating divides. I believe the question here is not how social media is good or bad for society, but rather, how is society using social media in a good or bad way? Social media is human driven. It is a human application. It cannot exist without humans using it. So, the deductive answer would be social media is only as good as its users. We create the reality of it, which is the definition of social construction of reality. I believe just like in real life situations, the loudest voice is heard first. For example, in a concert the singer with the microphone drowns out the crowd or when there is a protest, you hear the ones that are screaming the most. In the same way I feel social media’s main voices are the one that have the biggest online presence. The problem with that is, the loudest voice isn’t always the right one.
The fake news issue is not a new one. One famous past example is of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline by the Chicago Tribune in 1948. (Macionis, 2019) However, social media has a wildfire effect, spreading information, verified or not, at an exponential rate. The 2016 US presidential election was a prime target of fake news, insults and unsavory comments were made about both main candidates. One example is the US vs. Internet Research Agency. The United States filed a suit in February 2018 against Internet Research Agency, based out of Russia, whose alleged only goal was to mess with the election by trolling major social media outlets to propagate false claim. The CITS (Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara wrote an article on four main ways fake news is spread: bots, people like us, microtargeting and trolls. In it they show a summary of Russia’s Social Media Influence Operations. According to the summary, the Internet Research Facility conducted an all-out attack on American social media users by creating fake accounts, pretending to be American political activists with hashtag propaganda, among other things, it sounds like a movie. Whether or not it affected the election was not mentioned in the indictment, but I felt it was implied.
I believe social media can be and is in many ways very good for society. We hear stories of good deeds gone viral that result in a good Samaritan being rewarded. We hear of people being reunited with lost love ones and people (like me) finding love. We also hear about misinformation that is re-posted and propagated which results in people being divided on an issue or worse, injured or dead. It can be good for society if we find ways to stop false information from spreading, with social media platforms vetting news sources and social media users verifying what they are sharing. We can construct a better reality.
- Barrett, D., Horwitz, S., Helderman, R.(2018, February 16). Russian troll farm, 13 suspects indicted in 2016 election interference. The Washington Post. Retrieved on 1/29/19 from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/russian-troll-farm-13-suspects-indicted-for-interference-in-us-election/2018/02/16/2504de5e-1342-11e8-9570-29c9830535e5_story.html?utm_term=.ee3a76f4dff9
- Allcott, H., Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), pp. 211-236. Retrieved on 1/29/19 from: https://web.stanford.edu/~gentzkow/research/fakenews.pdf
- How is Fake News Spread? Bots, People like You, Trolls, and Microtargeting. (2019).
- A Citizen’s Guide to Fake News | Center for Information Technology and Society – UC Santa Barbara, Center for Information Technology and Society – UC Santa Barbara. Retrieved 1/29/19 from: http://www.cits.ucsb.edu/fake-news/spread
- Are Social Networking Sites Good for our Society? (2018). Retrieved on 1/29/19 from: https://socialnetworking.procon.org
- Macionis, J.J. (2019). Intro to Sociology – Spring 2019 [Pearson Revel Version]. Chapter 5, Retrieved January 29, 2019 from: https://revel-ise.pearson.com/courses/5c281f96e4b0cb0b34c7862a/pages/a7c6d8e0278d4d429c9e836d105ad9b9fafaad0a4?source=contents
- United States of America v. Internet Research Agency et al. 2018. Retrieved on 1/29/19 from: https://www.justice.gov/file/1035477/download.