Recently Facebook has come under fire from conservative groups and the government for allegations that Facebook algorithms and personnel are intentionally stifling conservative news stories from appearing as “trending news stories”.
Beyond whether or not this is true it has raised questions about how we as a society are consuming news, according to the article near half of all web-using adults receive their news from Facebook. The main concern here is that often what we are seeing as “news” or “trending” may not actually be true. The article states that in an age where popularity and click-bate are able to decide what becomes trending, which in turn many people then believe to be fact, it is often the people with the fringe beliefs and conspiracies that are the most active on social media platforms. A recent study found that 75% of the posts and pins on Instagram and Pinterest related to vaccination, were anti-vaccine content, this is up from 25% anti-vaccine in the early 2000s.
I’m sure we have all at one point laughed at a friend or family member who shared an Onion article thinking that it was true, but the disturbing truth is that the propagation of miss-information as fact can be seriously damaging. Examples in the article include the people of Brazil believing that their government is lying to them about the Zika virus causing birth defects, and a town in Oregon voting to stop the fluoridation of their water. The good news is steps are being taken to attack the recent rise in false news. Google is working on “truth ranking” for web searches, and there are algorithms in the works that hope to detect when a post or article is likely a hoax or satire.
In the end it is up to us, the consumers of social media to interact with and share what we see online responsibly. People are much more likely to trust those in their own community, and in this case the online community is big. So think next time before you share an article about Brita’s new throat water filter, you never know what your sister or grandpa will believe.