misinformation

How going offline is one way to avoid disinformation and online manipulation

May 24, 2022
Clare Brown

How many times have you been outraged by something on social media today? How did you respond - did you share and amplify? In a recent webinar, one of the key messages Dr Carl Miller delivered was to stop and think before reacting to anything we read online. We live in dangerous and fractured times and alarmingly, he suggested that “information is a theatre of war”,

 

 

The rise and rise of social media data

Social media platforms continue to be agents of incredible social change and enable people to connect all over the world. Massive platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are also generating more data than ever before, which is providing new and fertile areas for data scientists to work with psychologists, behavioural and social scientists to study the whats and whys behind the data. 

Despite the limitations of the research (for example, researchers are only looking at selected platforms, there are massive amounts of data to process, speed of new developments, etc.), published findings are increasingly alarming. There is evidence that people all over the world are being misled and manipulated. 

Everyone is searching for the truth behind the news but truth varies depending on our own biases and lived/learned experiences. This leaves us open and vulnerable to manipulation by those with uncertain agendas. Where there are no legal protections in place, we have to look to our own resources to protect ourselves.

It’s not just about fake news

Vable has written about fake news in the past but there have been ongoing developments, and it is becoming more insidious than people simply reposting badly photoshopped photographs. The major social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, have responded to complaints about fake news, harmful misinformation and hate speech by blocking and shutting down many accounts. 

Extremists and conspiracy theorists have counter-responded by moving to alternative social spaces to ensure their twisted agendas continue to be shared and amplified. They continue to generate confusion, misinformation, and mistrust amongst the public. They target presidential elections, healthcare, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and many other world events.

Let your end-users make the most of your collective expertise

How can the law regulate the social media giants?

The law should protect people from harmful behaviours online but legal protections have always lagged behind technological developments. It seems that as social media giants have drifted beyond the reach of the law; with globalisation and different approaches to online regulation complicating matters further.

The UK is introducing new online safety laws to protect adults and children from online harm. The new Bill would impose duties on “regulated services” (user-to-user services which share user-generated content, e.g. Facebook, and search services, e.g. Google, with links to the UK) in relation to illegal or harmful content. The UK Office of Communications will be given increased powers. 

This is where I defer to the critical and legal research expertise of the House of Commons Library service and their excellent research paper. They have also published an accompanying reading list which includes views from across the political and social spectrum. Well worth reading.

Dr Miller stated that for a writer, or indeed, for anyone who values civilisation and truth, information warfare is distressing. He suggests that we should all be working towards peace, and making use of the tools - legal or otherwise - we already have available. We each need to be responsible for our own response to online manipulation.

How can we avoid being manipulated?

Sometimes it is hard to avoid something, even when you’re aware that it is happening. However, Dr Miller shared some great advice that we should keep in mind.

  • Slow down! Guard against outrage by taking time to respond rationally rather than emotionally.
  • Beware passive scrolling. Over 30% of the information that finds us is targeted via algorithms that seem to know us better than we know ourselves. 
  • Watch the numbers. Just because someone has a blue tick and or millions of followers doesn’t mean that they are a trusted authority.
  • Think of social media consumption as a diet - you are what you eat/consume. If you exist on a diet of conspiracy theories, false news, outrage and misinformation, it is alienating and unhealthy.
  • Be critical and look for evidence beyond the social media platforms. This is a challenge and is anticipated by the final point…
  • Go to a library!! Read books and embrace analogue! If it relates to politics, health, finance or other important matters, take your research offline. Although this seems retro, the most tech savvy are taking vital information offline too, for example, cold wallets.

Would you add anything more to this list?

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