26 January 2018

Social Media and Fake News

This week twitter started sending emails to the users that interacted with Russian bots and accounts during the last elections.
In the tech circles, there is a load of comparisons between how Facebook and Twitter reacted on the whole mess.
Seems like Twitter is considered to be on the right way, due to their transparency and admission they will need some help to find a solution. And main complains of Facebook’s approach is a reluctance to admit a problem, and washing the hands of it.
I cannot personally say much because I used neither as a news source. But I pay attention to the changes. I have to say I really do not like a proposed Facebook solution to make local majority standard of what news will be shown to the user. Part of me got puzzled by this announcement because it seems so opposite to their business model.
Let me explain using myself as an example. I live in an area that is dominated by Fox News watchers, people receiving a different set of info than me. Yep, I do not watch Fox News.
Remember when I was talking about how to get to the truth in the news sources? Well, Fox News uses so many emotions, opinions, and emotional manipulation that I simply cannot watch it. When I first tried, it reminded me so much of the pro-war propaganda during the war in my country of origin. So I never watched it again. I simply cannot, feeling that I’m being manipulated is just too strong. I also have to add that I have a similar feeling when I watch MSNBS, similar emotional manipulations are used there. So no, I do not watch that either.
I’m not the only one, each of us has some news source they cannot watch, the emotional reaction caused by that particular source is simply too strong and the person instantly does not believe it.
Meaning, if the platform forces people to watch what they do not like, they might leave the platform. And that is why I do not believe Facebook will go with this local news solution. Their main source of income is grabbing user attention. Your attention is what social networks sell.
The trouble is, attention-grabbing as the main driver of the business model is not good for societies. Any online product that relies on grabbing attention as a source of profit open themselves to exploitation for nefarious purposes. And Russian meddling is just one of the examples.
To grab attention platforms show users what they expect to see, and users end up in information bubbles. To keep users’ attention, platforms have to escalate the content, items shown are getting more and more extreme, pushing the users to an extreme spectrum of their information bubble. And that’s how you get recruiting of ordinary people into extremists movements. Those same people think the whole planet shares their opinion because the only thing they see is that same bubble.
In essence, the whole business model of social media has to change if they wish to tackle this fake news problem. So I’m not holding my breath.
My bet is that is more likely they will accept new Trump’s definition of Fake News (I.e. news user does not like) and go with it. That definition fits perfectly with their business model. So why not? It will work, as long as a majority of users does not realize what platforms are doing.
So what to do?
Well, simple. Stop relying on social media to get your news. If you really wish to get to the truth consult multiple sources. And as the starting point, I can recommend a lovely site that investigates bias of the news sources.
This is a good start for finding those multiple sources you need. I started using them to adjust my own Apple news to show the least biased and science-based sources. Apple news needs a bit of training as any app of such sort. But this method works and I am happy. I have my least biased news sources from all around the planet. Exactly what I wanted. Drama-less way to get my news.
There is also cool nonprofit dedicated to increasing media literacy. Check them out too. Every little bit helps.

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