Reading10: Fake News
I believe there is little doubt that discord spawned by fake and misleading news on social media is one of the great issues of our day. Before the advent of the Internet and social media platforms, people generally got their news from trusted news providers like newspapers, magazines, and TV stations. While some of these media undoubtedly have certain partisan slants, they generally do not spread blatantly false stories (and tend to admit errors when they are found to have done so). With social media, news no longer has to come directly from these trusted providers in the established media – it can come from anyone. This has led to people increasingly viewing content shared and “liked” by their friends, which is problematic for two reasons. First, people are more likely to believe things their friends share than a stranger (particularly those less educated on how news works). This makes it easier for a questionable news story to gain credibility when something shared by someone’s friend’s friend’s friend eventually reaches them. Second, people tend to share somewhat similar views to their friends, so the spreading of content through different social media circles can create echo chambers where people only hear what they want to hear, which increases discord by accentuating extreme positions at the expense of moderation.
Personally, I am acutely aware of these issues and have taken concrete steps to ensure I do not succumb to fake news or a political echo chamber. When I was in high school, my Facebook feed definitely looked quite one sided and contained some content of questionable validity, but since then, I have actively tried to shift this by unfollowing accounts that are egregiously one-sided, following news sources known to have different political leanings, and unfollowing any accounts that share content I deem to be probably made up. This has definitely greatly improved the quality of content on my feed, but I still recognize that I could be stuck in an echo bubble so I make a point to read news from as many different sources as possible, even turning to international news to give me as balanced a perspective as possible. Being properly informed is a huge priority for me, and taking these steps has certainly helped me to achieve that end and is my way of avoiding entry into a “post-fact” world.
However, I know that not everyone shares the same caution – particularly those who are not as well informed or educated. This can lead to massive problems from swaying elections to inspiring killings. I agree with Kathleen Jamieson that “Russian trolls helped elect” President Trump through a coordinated campaign to spread fake news. Even if Trump would have won without the foreign help, the possibility that an adversary could use social media to attempt to sway a US election is extremely troubling. Even scarier is the way social media has promoted the genocide of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, where a horrifying amount of hate speech has spread throughout Facebook promoting their slaughter. In cases like these, I believe social media companies have the responsibility to filter out offensive, false, and dangerous content. However, I am definitely somewhat uncomfortable with giving them too much of this power because just as the Russians were able to use social media to achieve political ends, so could to technocrats leading these companies. Therefore, I think a new law is needed regulating the standards for removal of objectionable content. With such a law, the standards for unacceptable content would be set and it would become illegal to filter out legitimate views. This would help social media companies achieve their goal of connecting the world without giving them too much power to influence events to their liking.