Social media propaganda and why critical thinking is important
Over the past five years, the use of social media has become increasingly frequent. In fact, many people find themselves unable to stay away from it, with the excuse being “I just want to know what’s going on in the world”. While this may be true, it also implies that there is a certain level of vulnerability to the mindset as an effect of mass-media. Our natural curiosity is used against us.
Research regarding the developments of Facebook’s users have indicated that the average age of users have slowly increased over the last two years. It is no longer the young dynamic teenagers who spend most of their time on the famous blue and white webpage, but have now been replaced by people above the age of 45. Since 2012, there has been a massive growth of 46% in the users group between the age-bracket of 45-to-54 years old.
Meanwhile teenagers are massively emigrating towards new social media platforms that provide users with a much more dynamic ability to stay trendy like Twitter or Vine. It is all about being part of the mainstream trend and sharing short term news updates about the world or themselves. Part of that process is to share information or media that one likes and wishes to share with others by ways of share-buttons or retweets. Football stats and breaking news are spread this way faster than publishing companies can print newspaper. Perhaps it is a little too fast for its own good.
In history class, sources are identified as primary or secondary. Primary sources are considered to be the more reliable because they come from the original content creator. There is a reason why academies require students to cite their sources. Students have to think about why the sources are useful and why they are reliable before applying it to their own papers. Such cases do not exist in the sphere of social media.
Reliability is dependent on completely different factors when it comes to social media. First it needs to be likable. If it does not fit the spectrum of the user’s opinion, it is considered to be less likely to be real. Secondly, it depends on how many people like or share that same link or links that are similar. The more people talk about it in the twittersphere, the more likely it is for the news to be true unless someone is pointing out the forgery.
People quickly assume that there are several resources that can be cited to “definitely” be true. News agencies are one of those examples. They are dedicated companies that define their output to be publishing real information about the world. However, misreporting or biased reporting has never been anything strange. After all, news agencies are businesses too and they will always find ways to “excite” their readers. Media has an interesting way of changing our mindset. Newspapers can become propaganda while forums are user-generated and thus bias-sensitive. Social Media is the combination of both, projecting news and bias in a way that makes you think in certain ways.
When the Winter Olympics in Sochi were in progress, journalists began to ponder the fairness of the judging panel due to questionable results that surprised many people. This soon took over as the top trending subject on social media, escalating into mass outcry for justice. What can be seen is how users on social media trust that prominent writers are objective in their wordings and thus will write what is assumed to be true. They then broadcast it to their followers who will think the same. Over a short span of time, the amount of users sharing this news will have grown exponentially and thus increasing the trustability. As it is shared by so many, the online world must believe that this is true and thus quickly, Russia was blamed for unfair treatment to the athletes at the Winter Olympics.
The argument here is not whether the judging panel was correct or not, but rather how much the user can trusts their sources based on no research. How true things can be should be determined through critical deduction. This can be done by asking the right questions. Who said it, who is that person, what did he say, how well can he source his facts, etc. Asking critical questions is important not just to evaluate the reliability of any source, but also in your daily life. Are you just going to believe what people say? or will you question them and attempt to find out what is true or not for yourselves?
Do not assume information to be absolutely correct per definition just because it comes from a person you trust. Everyone can make mistakes and sometimes this is broadcasted and shared with millions of people. However if we learn to recognize these issues, hopefully one day we find ourselves able to distinguish and analyze what is good news and what is not.