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Holitza: Social media contributes to the age of misinformation

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by The Collegian or its editorial board.

Let’s face it, the information age is over, and we have moved into the age of misinformation, and it’s a bad situation.

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The revolution of social media truly began with Facebook, one of the first highly accessible forms of social media that connected people on a large scale. Though, Facebook was just a catalyst for an explosion of apps and websites that changed media consumption for everyone.

Since Facebook, many social media apps have come and gone, but social media, and individualized media consumption, has become a daily part of life for many people, especially us students, as told by the recently released Netflix documentary, “The Social Dilemma.”

It’s the only way that some Americans receive news at all, and it sways our opinions on issues more than we might like to admit. Are the people you listen to on a daily basis speaking the truth? Or are they simply another victim of this telephone effect that social media seems to have on facts?

Our use of social media plays into the age of misinformation that we are experiencing right now.

“Social media creates an environment that may not always denounce hate speech against ethnic or religious groups and thrives off of negative proof, meaning it must be true simply because it cannot be proven wrong.”

There has been a significant rise in the use of TikTok everywhere, with the media giant reporting nearly 700 million users in July worldwide, nearly 100 million of which are United States-based users. The problem with the algorithm used by TikTok, and in most social media apps, is that they will only show content specifically tailored to each individual’s preferences. When it comes to opinions and news, this personalization can be a negative. 

It is easy to get trapped by these algorithms in what’s known as an echo chamber. An echo chamber, in simple terms, is an environment where someone may only hear opinions and views similar to their own.

This effect can also cause a significant amount of confirmation bias by showing a user exclusively other people who may agree with or confirm their beliefs. They will have even more reason to feel that they are ethically sound. This only deepens division and in a few short likes and comments, anyone can end up down the rabbit hole. 

During lockdowns, many people were cooped up at home with nothing better to do than browse social media and watch the news. This echo chamber effect likely caused any number of people to get trapped in a cycle of conspiracy theories that affirm one another. Some may eventually agree with them simply because of this confirmation bias.

Multiple different sources may be stating the same false information, which can lead to believing that false information is true, simply because they see multiple users corroborating a conspiracy. Social media creates an environment that may not always denounce hate speech against ethnic or religious groups and thrives off of negative proof, meaning it must be true simply because it cannot be proven wrong.

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QAnon, a conspiracy group which began in 2017 on 4Chan message boards, is a great example of this rise in confirmation bias. The conspiracy group makes posts on various social media sites that appear to support the idea that President Donald Trump and other top Republican leaders are in a fight against an international cabal.

Facebook and Twitter have both made efforts against the group’s misinformation campaign. However, in some cases, it only strengthens the conspiracy; if posts are removed, followers may claim that it was because they are true. This is just one small part of the misinformation campaign that plagues us.

The problem stretches beyond conspiracies, however, because creators have such influence over the information each person takes in on a daily basis. They may be influencing a large number of people with information that is not entirely true. Just to defend their own ideas, many people may accept something that is slightly less than the truth, only if it corroborates their personal beliefs. 

It is so important for every fact or opinion that is stated on social media to be taken with a grain of salt, especially from our public officials. Fact-check your friends, your classmates or anyone else who might be regurgitating false facts. 

Mason Holitza can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @MHolitza.

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