Social Media & Post Truth

This week on Facebook: Probably — like most people — I had always assumed that I could find articles on the internet that matched my expectation of the truth.  I never thought for a moment that I may be subjected to a form of social media brainwashing. This deliberate act by the providers of social media  services may have certain advantages when researching the internet but non more so than those offered to sources who wish to influence or — more usually — reinforce opinions that are already held.

As an ex-career civil servant I am not surprised at the way news is manipulated to make it more palatable. I am surprised that seeking the truth behind any news-story is made increasingly difficult by social media providers. Further, that social media sources not only seek to reinforce views compatible with those already held, but that any truthful or unbiased reports may be suppressed.

I read the remark recently that if what you are looking for is not on page 1 then forget it. There was time when this statement could have been valid but now search terms must be carefully selected. Commercial interests are willing to pay for a product placement in a social media search engine. I realised the commercial implications of this while researching for essentially non commercial articles to include in my post In vino veritas. This makes internet research much more difficult in terms of formatting a search requirement.

I was also aware that the internet allows a safe space to be created, especially in the form of ‘closed groups’. I wasn’t aware of the extent to which social media providers manipulate what is seen, enabling those of a particular opinion to create an even safer space, however naive, antagonistic, unworldly — or whatever word you may choose to call it — that safe space is.


If 2017 is to herald a post truth era:

Why are we doing
What we are doing
How do we proceed from here?

Monday 2/1/2017 Separating Fact From Fiction in the Digital World: The slow erosion of privacy we’re experiencing in this digital age gives us glimpses into the innermost thoughts and feelings of others, thoughts that we most likely never would have been privy to before Facebook and Twitter made it seem normal for us to broadcast anything and everything to the world at large.

Tuesday 3/1/2017 How social media confuses fact and fiction in the news: Recent Pew Research Centre finding that nearly half of Americans get their political and government news from Facebook and 38 percent cite the internet as a primary source of news, the fact that false news from unvetted sites it’s promoted is troublesome.

Wednesday 4/1/2017 The Fallacy of Post-Truth: Pushed by major media organisations like Forbes and the New York Times, post-truth recently became Oxford Dictionaries’ new word of the year. A recent think piece in Huffington Post labeled “Post-Truth Nation” stated this idea succinctly: “the greatest problem of our future is not political; it is not economic; it is not even rational. It’s the battle of fact versus fiction.”

Thursday 5/1/2017 Can or even should Google sort fact from fiction? Social media has largely been put to blame for the preponderance of fake news stories and falsehoods which have been spread in both Brexit and the Presidential campaigns. Facebook has been seen as especially guilty on the fake news front but Google has been quietly playing it’s part as well. We expect our results to be increasingly relevant and have gotten used to search results providing a higher and higher standard of results. Maybe we’re still making that same mistake of placing a little bit too much trust into what we read.

Friday 6/1/2017 Post-truth politics and social media mis-education: The possibility that education has become a fundamental divide in democracy—with the educated on one side and the less educated on another—is an alarming prospect. The less educated fear they are being governed by intellectual snobs who know nothing of their lives and experiences. The educated fear their fate may be decided by know-nothings who are ignorant of how the world really works. The involvement of social media in the spread of post-truth politics points to how it is leading citizens into informational enclaves designed to feed them news and knowledge that has been filtered to match their interests, based on data analysis of their previous online habits and what social networks they belong to.

THE LONG READ: How technology disrupted the truth: Twenty-five years after the first website went online, it is clear that we are living through a period of dizzying transition. For 500 years after Gutenberg, the dominant form of information was the printed page: knowledge was primarily delivered in a fixed format, one that encouraged readers to believe in stable and settled truths.

PDF: Facts vs. Fiction vs. Opinions: How to Tell the Difference? False or inaccurate information is rampant on the internet for several reasons. For one, there is a lot of internet user-generated content — such as photos, videos, blogs and social media posts — but little quality control. Users may create on purpose humorous or sensational but often untruthful content to get more views, likes and shares. This is made worse when the media use such content to get more eyeballs and sell more ads but fail to validate it because of time or resource constraints. Then there are the rumours that get spread because they play on people’s fears and anxieties; malicious or falsified content that is created to push certain agendas; and opinions that are supported by untruths or only selected facts. To be smarter digital citizens, we need to be aware that not everything that gets posted online is true or gives us the whole story. We need to be able to discern facts from fiction, and facts from opinions.


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