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The Problem of Abundance

It’s All Too Much

In the wise words of John Oliver: memes aren’t facts.

The truth is, though, a large amount of people get their information on current events from easily digestible sources on websites they usually go to anyway. I’m certainly guilty of doing that, and I’m well aware that those sources might not be entirely accurate. As our readings this week pointed out, though, there’s just too much out there to sift through. At some point, you just have to accept what’s convenient and move on with your day.

Another issue that came to mind is how sites like Facebook and YouTube use algorithms to “suggest content you’ll like”, but ultimately end up creating an echo chamber for the opinions you already have. 60 Minutes did a piece a few months ago that discussed, in part, how YouTube’s suggested videos feature helps spread conspiracy theories, false information, and the messages of hate groups.

This is a systemic issue. Social media platforms and popular websites seem to not care if they put too much information out there. As long as they get traffic and advertising revenue, they don’t care if an individual falls for conspiracy theory nonsense. They have no incentive to curate what information is spread. Worse, if these sites did start to monitor the accuracy of information being spread, they’d be accused of violating someone’s First Amendment rights.

All of this is to say… I legitimately have no idea how to approach this issue. You can tell individuals to “be vigilant” or “corroborate your sources”, but even then, people will take the easier option if the information in question isn’t of dire importance to them. The only real way to have a permanent solution to this is to monitor what is uploaded and what is distributed, and there’s no way of ethically doing that.

2 replies on “It’s All Too Much”

You raised some really good points in your blog post- the way people get their information, the algorithmic way its delivered to them on their social media, and the difficulties with controlling the information out there when it is false!

It reminded me of some research I did for a couple marketing professors regarding social media and misinformation and disinformation. For reference, misinformation is information that is false by mistake or error. Comparatively, disinformation is information that is purposefully wrong and meant to deceive.

Misinformation is often identified as the problem, and it’s arguably a shame- as people are propagating information (without knowing it’s false), simply because they want to help and educate their peers. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, social media sits such as Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest have put out statements on what they’re doing to deal with the problem. Their actions are primarily directed at removing false medical information and recommendations.

However, Twitter has yet to do anything about the disinformation currently being spread by Chinese government officials. This disinformation doubles as pro-Chinese propaganda and involves claims that understate the COVID-19 situation in China and points fingers at U.S. military labs for its origin. The reason I find Twitter’s lack of action interesting is because when the Chinese government spread disinformation about the protests in Hong Kong, Twitter (and Facebook) quickly suspended accounts found guilty. As far as I know, Twitter has also been more vocal than other social medias in responding to false information in general.

On an extra note, when I looked into the Hong Kong protests today, I found that protesters organized on Animal Crossing- resulting in the popular game being pulled from China! Although false information is a huge problem, it’s nice to remember that the U.S. government isn’t restricting international perspective to the degree that other countries are.

I believe this issue is an inherent flaw of humanity by looking at the English Civil War as many of us share the seminar. The rise of pamphlets due to the explosion of printing presses lead to outright rumors leading to violent skirmishes between Roman Catholics and Protestants in Ireland. It also influenced public opinion regarding Charles I with rumors of Catholic/Puritan/Scottish/Irish influence corrupting the king.

The free flow of information could be corrupted or fabricated with anyone that had access to a printing press and coin in 17th century England is not much different than “fake news” being spread by anyone who has access to a smart device and social media. In turn, social media companies can be used to direct narratives by allowing false information if it benefits them in some form. A viable solution is unobtainable in my opinion as even if the digital world suddenly collapsed, the manipulation of data would revert back to analog forms and even the literal public forum.

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