The sharing of information on social media often results in some sort of dispute – particularly if it has to do with politics.
Need a quick example? Take this question I posted on Facebook in April. There are some 240,000 comments — many of them are people getting into arguments.
Why does this seem to happen all the time on Facebook? There’s a reason for it – and misinformation and algorithms play predominant roles.
During a recent conference discussing the media’s impact, we looked at the potential impact of misinformation as it related to COVID-19. A Northwestern University study found people who got news from social media were more likely to believe misinformation about coronavirus. Their research found about 25% of social media users believed a false COVID-related story.
In addition to the misinformation leading to dangerous actions in the real world, it can also craft your narrative on the topic. That means an anti-mask post that may or may not be accurate comes across your feed. You believe it and then use that information to respond to other posts about mask usage.
Of course, bias plays a big role in this. I recently wrote about it and the two ideas (bias and misinformation) can go hand-in-hand and fuel the perfect storm.
A few interesting points on people likely to believe misinformation they see on social media, according to the research noted above:
- Political parties had generally small gaps in belief in misinformation.
- Among cable television news watchers, levels of misperceptions were relatively similar.
- People under 45 were more likely to believe misinformation.
The last bullet certainly surprised me.
The other thing you need to keep in mind is the algorithm. If you spend time on Facebook or YouTube reading/watching anti-mask posts, guess what the platforms are more likely to feed you in the future? As outlined in Netflix’s documentary The Social Dilemma, this can create a major challenge when a consumer is fed a single narrative that they then believe to be truth. We certainly saw this over the last few months with conspiracy theories tied to election results.
Take a few minutes to check this out:
So what can you do? As of now, it’s difficult to change the platforms. We instead need to start with ourselves.
- Don’t believe something until you know the source: Just because your high school buddy or beloved uncle shared something doesn’t mean it’s real. Do research.
- Don’t play a role in spreading misinformation: Don’t share something until you know it’s legitimate. You don’t want to be part of the problem.
- Understand how algorithms work: Understand you’re likely being fed content for a reason. Diversify your content choices, manage your notifications, etc.
- Limit your social media time: This is the big one. Don’t get stuck in the rabbit hole. Use social media responsibly.