From Shaman’s Rock
By Jim Poling Sr.
Whenever I read about global problems, I note climate change, serious pandemics, wars-military conflicts, poverty and hunger always top the list.
I’d like to add one: social media. Nothing has done more it the last two decades to spread disinformation, misinformation and manipulate the way people think.
Social media is being used to increase political conflict, promote instability and create atmospheres for violence. Its influence becomes stronger by the day.
An estimated 4.74 billion (billion, not million) people, or almost 60 per cent of the world’s population, are active social media users. Those figures come from DataReportal.com, which collects and distributes data on digital information usage.
Canada has an estimated 35 million social media users, which is roughly 90 per cent of the population.
There are dozens of social media platforms, the most popular being Facebook, YouTube, What’sApp and Instagram, each with more than two billion users. Twitter, which is in a state of chaos, has just under four million users.
Few will deny that social media platforms spread tons of information that is twisted or simply not true. There is talk of better policing, or even of banning social media platforms.
That’s just talk. It will never happen because the most outrageous pieces of bad information get the most attention. Misinformation sells and keeps social media platforms in business. Clicks mean money and money talks.
It’s impossible to police social media posting because there is so much of it. There are said to be hundreds of thousands of comments posted on Facebook worldwide every minute and 300 million new photos every day. Six thousand Tweets are sent every second.
Social media platforms lack professional fact checking. There are no editors ensuring that posts are fair, balanced and done with context that provides meaning and clarity to the message.
Despite that lack, many people are turning to social media for their news, and away from traditional professional news outlets like newspapers, which are suffering big readership and revenue declines.
So a lot of the “news” that social media users are absorbing is misinformation or outright disinformation.
Some of the inaccurate information is unintentional but some is intentional; deliberately put out there to influence thinking, or an event such as an election.
Sadly, even some of the people who are supposed to be providing us with good leadership are distributing bad information
Two recent examples: Twitter owner Elon Musk recently posted for his 112 million Twitter followers an unfounded conspiracy theory about the attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Musk deleted the Tweet later, but not before it received tens of thousands of retweets and likes.
Then earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau distributed on Twitter false information about mass death sentences in Iran. His Tweet referred to false reports that the Iranian government had sentenced nearly 15,000 people to death.
Trudeau tweeted that Canada “denounces the Iranian regime’s barbaric decision.”
The Tweet was deleted later, with Trudeau’s office explaining that it was based on initial reporting that was incomplete and lacking context. No one explained why the initial reporting was not checked for accuracy before the prime minister made a fool of himself.
Social media can be positive. It allows us to build friendships, keep in touch with family and friends and share helpful information. It also can be an important business tool.
However, bad information distributed on social media creates confusion. When people find a situation confusing they often simply ignore it, leaving it to get worse. For instance, when health authorities say vaccines are important and social media says virus threats are a hoax, people become confused and tend to simply ignore an important health issue.
Without question social media is shaping our world in many different ways, too many of them brutal and vulgar. We need to start recognizing this as a major problem.
Once we recognize it as a serious problem, we can start finding ways of fixing it. We need to lift social media to a higher level – a level in which information posted is important, accurate and capable of building a better world.