The War On Information: Social Media
Before the modern tug-of-war on information, social media platforms already worked out how to filter what you see on your news feed. This is determined by your social circle within that platform, the things that they like and/or follow, and other activities that reflect what they do. As time passed, however, people were able to find loopholes to use these algorithms to forward their own personal interests.
In this way, social media sites are no longer safe spaces for family and friends. They also have massive potential to be the platforms for misinformation and black propaganda. Anonymous users can easily make news articles and images that trigger an emotional response and sensationalise it. This compromises the integrity of the original message, twisting it to their advantage and letting them recruit other people for their cause.
This content follows the algorithmic design of the social media application through social media optimisation, so it can maximise its reach before it naturally dies out.
So how exactly do internet trolls use social media platforms to proliferate fake news – and more importantly, what kind of efforts are being taken to mitigate it?
The appeal of this platform is found in how users can post, share, and scroll through bite-sized updates. In comparison to Facebook, Twitter is where the millennials relax.
Trolls can hijack this platform by creating automated or semi-automated accounts, called “bots,” to post and retweet photoshopped images and fake news articles, and then instantaneously spread them across the Twitter network.
Since Twitter users usually do not have the time nor the patience to double check the information on their feed, they then become passive consumers of misinformation. This eventually becomes ingrained in their social media experience and it will become difficult for them to confirm the truth of any news they come across.
Because of this, Twitter is working on a Report Fake News button, which will allow users to flag misinformation for review. Development for this prototype is moving slowly, however, because of concerns that people may still find ways to manipulate the system.
They are also working on machine learning, where software is programmed to detect micro-signals from accounts to determine whether they are fake.
Facebook has a more collaborative atmosphere. People can like and join pages and groups that reflect their personal views and interests, and can write longer, more informative posts. News agencies and websites generally have more success in using Facebook for catching attention.
After the platform suffered a heavy blow from news that it may have played a part in tilting the US 2016 election season to their favour, it has become more vigilant with monitoring content. It’s started using “trust indicators”, which provide a background of the publishers and the authors behind the news article, and “related links”, which let users explore other articles related to the one they’ve seen.
Facebook is also under scrutiny for creating “filter bubbles”, only showing people things that they like or tend to agree with, and hiding content that they don’t support. In line with this, they introduced a feature that encourages users to follow topics and not just pages. This helps them receive content from different sources which reflect different views, and not just the ones that reflect their own.
Lastly, trolls are using Facebook to recruit people into Groups that display heavily skewed information on politics, religion, and the like. Once these Groups worm their way into a user’s biases, it can be difficult to bring them back out.
Both Facebook and Twitter have pledged to implement better transparency tools about political advertisements on their sites. They have also worked with independent fact-checking organisations to help nip fake news in the bud.
Information has now become a weapon that people can fire on social media platforms. Instead of bringing people together, social media is segregating and isolating them into groups that reflect their own biases – which makes it more difficult to reach out to others who may not think the way that they do.
The regulation of misinformation will inevitably cause controversies regarding the line between verbal abuse and free speech, valid opinions and harmful ones, regulated feeds and the right to content. These will be difficult questions to answer, but they will be necessary if we are to discover how social media will ultimately influence its users.