In this world of instant ‘news’ and polarized camps, it is difficult to siphon off the untrue, inflammatory, and malicious from the true, helpful, and conciliatory.
This is particularly true when we learn that one of the goals of social media is to monetize our attention. In the stunning must-see documentary, The Social Dilemma on Netflix, creators of popular social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest discuss how they have monetized their apps to drive profit. The apps are free to use. What is for sale is…you. Your attention. Your time. Your behavior.
What you click on, how long you look at it, and how you react is all measured. Complex algorithms calculate what data to show you based on what you are most likely to click. If you click on articles on empathy, you’ll be shown more stories on empathy. And if you click on dark or divisive articles, you will get more of same. Meanwhile, each of those clicks is a pay out from those seeking to put their messages into your head. The algorithms aren’t based on whether the content is good for you to view; they are based on what you are most likely to click. It is not hard to see how someone can become radicalized if they follow one of the darker holes further and further down.
So what to do? First, maybe affirm a universal truth. We want to make our decisions based on reality, not lies. We want to conform our understanding to facts, not alter the facts to fit our understanding. It’s as if there is a map to our destination. When we realize we are off course to a place we want to be, we change course, we don’t rewrite the map.
Second, consider your sources. Are they reputable? Rather than feeding the narrative you may want to hear, do they present the issues fairly and with minimal bias? If you are constantly being fed information that doesn’t square with what you see and hear happening around you, change up your sources.
Finally, read broadly. Don’t rely on a single person or news source. With respect to social media, seek out reliable sources directly and go to their sites to read the articles rather than clicking on a tempting link. We can be better informed than ever before, but we need to be intentional about it rather than passively wait for ‘news’ articles to pop up on your Facebook feed.
Social media is a powerful tool, but, like any tool, it can be a force for both good and bad. We need to be wary consumers and protect ourselves from being manipulated solely by advertisers trying to make a dime without regard to whether what they are showing us is true or decent. We need to guard our hearts, not to shelter ourselves from bad news or hurt in the world, but to keep ourselves from falling victim to fraud and deceit and unwittingly perpetuating false narratives ourselves.
Have you fallen for fake news lately? What steps have you taken to make sure you are reading and passing on reliable information?
I recently clicked on an article purporting to be a response from someone who had been silent on a current political issue. I fell for the ‘Check the Date’ problem above. The article was from about four years ago. That person was still being silent on the current issue, so I didn’t get any new information, but that duplicitous advertiser made some money off my click.
How about you?