Hey everybody, Happy New Year!
Social media is a tricky beast. It can do a really great job of keeping people connected across continents and introducing us to new things as our friends share them. However, it can also serve to spread misinformation at incredible speeds and its buffet style approach to information sharing can create an echo chamber where we only see posts we already agree with.
Last year saw a number of hoaxes get shared millions of times in a matter of days. Fake news sites attempting (and failing miserably) to emulate the Onion generated articles that were taken as fact and spread around the social media platforms. Meanwhile, it seems that topics of public discussion quickly turn into shouting matches with people on all sides of the issues regurgitating only what they’ve read in articles preselected to appeal to them. We are constantly feeding on information that confirms our beliefs, demonizes those who disagree with us, and values the rhetorical impact of a statement over its factual accuracy. When our carefully constructed information bubbles collide with another person’s bubble, chaos ensues and truth is often ignored.
Let’s try to stop that, ok? I offer this challenge both to myself and you: before you post, (re)tweet, share, like, or pass an article or video on to your peers, take some time to verify that the information it contains is actually true. Don’t just click “like” because you agree with the headline. If it’s not worth your time to spend 5-10 minutes making sure that you’re not spreading false information, than it’s not worth posting it. If it’s about something political or about any topic where sides are taken, don’t just confirm with sources that agree with you. Go find out what the other side has to say about the information. It’s possible that sources friendly to your views are editing out or neglecting bits of information that run counter to the message they want to present. Be as critical of sources that agree with you as you are of sources that disagree with you. If you search and can’t find the facts, feel free to share the article in question and ask your friends, in particular the ones that disagree with you, to help you determine the truth.
So there you have it, that’s my challenge to you. Let’s honestly try our best this year to check our facts, be critical of articles that we agree with, and not post anything that we haven’t verified as true. Let’s make this year more informative and less reactionary than 2013.