Social Media, Truth and 'Facts'

Social media has made it possible for anyone to spread almost any utterances widely and rapidly. Badly used, social media can be a misleading source or a disastrously effective propaganda tool. The fundamental issue is the notion that an outlet can be fully ‘open’ to any input and, at the same time, a reliable source of information.

What has changed with the popularity of social media? Users have continued to believe that what is said is reliable. The contrary belief, long used by scientists, that everything should be doubted until it is checked, is not the way social media messages are accepted by most users. There are stories (unchecked) that The Washington Post, Harpers magazine and others have broadcast stories from a CBC satire program, “This is That”, that absolutely never has broadcast any reality.

The spread of imaginary satire is relatively harmless compared to the spreading of willfully manipulated situations as has become common in political postings on social media.

Social media reports and information from the Internet are entirely different. With critical care, information from the Internet could be used as part of checking the validity of social media postings.

But many users of social media do not think critically about postings that they see (or that they post). So criteria other than logic or support by evidence select the information that spreads most rapidly and farthest. Often, selection is according to dramatic display or how ‘cool’ the posting is. It is dangerously easy for postings that are untrue and even those with evil intent, to be spread and possibly to become the foundation of belief groups. The popular expression ‘gone viral’ hints at the disease caused by thoughtless postings. It is even easier for postings that lean in a particular direction to give developmental support to social waves of thinking.

Waiting for new technology to develop means of critically checking social media information is too slow and uncertain. We need to renew our intellectual ability to critically assess ideas before letting them be amplified into ‘false news’.

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