Fake news, harassment and misinformation have always existed, but with the explosion of social networks they acquired greater dimensions. Now, we wonder how the Internet impacts our decisions, good coexistence as a society and social behavior.
The billionaire owner of Tesla, Elon Musk, put this issue on the table by launching a survey on his Twitter account questioning the platform about its promise regarding freedom of expression. Immediately after doing this, this week, he bought boxes and 10% of Twitter shares. Curious, right?
The results of that survey were even more interesting. The majority, 70%, does not believe that Twitter if it correctly follows the principle of freedom of expression. In any case, it is a biased survey since it was aimed at Musk’s followers, for which it has no scientific basis.
During this week, Musk also made more controversial tweets saying he would work to “make significant improvements to Twitter,” and took another poll, now praying if his followers wanted an edit button. Quickly, Twitter said that Musk will not decide on the shape of the products and the edit button if he developed long before the billionaire’s survey.
The fact is that Musk has a history of complaining about Twitter’s moderation tools, which is why the social media platform didn’t remove even his anti-vaccine posts and bad “jokes” involving Hitler, including. For Musk, due to the moderation tools, the new CEO of Twitter, Parag Agrawal, is compared to Joseph Stalin, for example.
Blaming Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube (and even generations past and present) for preventing our expression from being released and only going to the surface of the problem. Manipulation, fake news and even censorship seem to be the daily breakfast for all social media users.
The big question eg: who to believe? How can we open a trust in our own timeline? How to prevent personal injury from it? In this article, we will discuss the mysteries about our freedom of expression and social media today.
A brief overview of the political landscape
One of the first episodes in which this topic began to be discussed was with the Cambridge Analytic platform, which showed how the US Republican Party improperly used Facebook data to create voter profiles in elections from 2014.
The reaction was the first indication of how social networks are capable of shaping behavior. And he also led to many conspiracy theories, which asked the same thing: if we are manipulated through social networks, do we really have freedom of expression?
In other scenarios, political leaders such as the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, have shown their price for other social platforms, such as Telegram, which the Brazilian justice system wanted to block. However, other channels, such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, have accused Bolsonaro of violating the rules to prevent the spread of erroneous information.
But not everything is bad news and scandals. Yes, many times social networks were very useful in political scenarios.
For example, in 2011 Facebook and Twitter were used to organize an uprising against the Egyptian government.
Also, in Venezuela (where I am from), social networks are very important for those journalists who have been excluded from conventional media, such as radio and television.
In the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, Ukrainian influencers are using TikTok to share footage of the war when mainstream media wasn’t. But at the same time, the platform was also used to share a lot of fake news about the war.
What about us, brands and digital professionals?
Is there room for us in this conversation? Including targeting both sides of the coin, it is clear that there is much debate about social media behavior and freedom of expression (and this debate goes far beyond a Twitter poll).
This is something bigger for us, as digital professionals. If an online environment is not secure and has no credibility, are you going to communicate your brand there?
With billions of people using social media every day, it’s impossible for our companies not to be there. So it’s also our job to ensure a healthy digital place for everyone, right?
LinkedIn recently blocked jobs exclusively for black and indigenous people in Brazil. Many large companies protested, federal prosecutors opened investigations, and activists sued.
I want to know that LinkedIn will reverse it in focus, it will have to be changed in politics for Latin America. At the same time, other social media platforms, like Facebook, pushed annoying content into their algorithms just because it has more engagement, and this led to people consuming more time-consuming ads.
The scandal led to internal documents being released to the press showing, for example, that the company did nothing when it learned that Instagram could help develop mental disorders among adolescents. Facebook included had changed its name to Meta as a way to resolve the crisis, according to the analysis of specialists.
These two episodes show that social media platforms are struggling to moderate content posted by their users. They are businesses and they want to have money. This is not a problem. But what about your social responsibilities?
Another controversy occurred in 2021 during the US elections. Twitter determined that Trump’s comments on the social media platform incited violence in the US capital. Subsequently, the account was permanently banned from the platform.
I don’t want to make a good statement if it was a decision to remove Donald Trump’s profile from Twitter or not. The only one that is clear to me is: what we say on social networks has a real impact on reality. For that reason, we should start thinking about accountability.
Something that should concern us more is polarization, which has been a big problem in recent years. Why? Because polarization really impacts democracy, and also attracts hate speech.
Facebook took note of this and saw it as a business opportunity, for example.
But it does not help us to think in the logical way, but in a very biased way. As I said at the beginning, manipulation has always existed, but with social networks it seems that people have fewer filters to know what is true or reliable.
Fighting against fake news and the algorithm
With social media, we’re on both sides: we create content at the same time we consume it. A phenomenon that did not occur with television, cinema or radio, where someone spoke for the masses. Now, the masses talk and consume and share (which makes some good things go viral, like a donation drive, but also bad things, like fake news and hate speech).
We, as creators and consumers of content, have a great responsibility to take care of the type of information that we digest every day. You will be open to identifying misinformation and fake news as vital elements in spreading polarization on the Internet.
Do you want to learn how to identify fake news and misinformation? Here are some tips:
- Check your unconscious bias. Fake news tends to reinforce negative stereotypes. So ask yourself: does this bother me because it’s true? Or am I just being biased?
- It is argued that there are too many misspelled words or grammatical errors, doubt. The same goes for videos or images. If they lack a lot of quality, they may not be true.
- Look at the original sources: disinformation is also exaggerating the real facts.
- Follow fact-checking experts on social media and their websites.
- Beware radical content. The real world is not a movie where you have the bad guy and the good guy. If you see something that incites violence against someone, don’t act violently in response. We are humans that we can solve our problems argues.
As the discussion continues, some countries have started to come up with regulatory laws for social media platforms. The idea is contrary to hate speech, crimes in general and harassment, in order to build rules for services to moderate this type of content. Last December, for example, the head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, had to speak with US senators and heard from them: “Self-policing depends on trust, and trust if you have one gone.” Europe is also discussing the mystical issue.
At the same time, the scenario is beginning to change. Pinterest, for example, updated its community guidelines and algorithm to be more inclusive, give visibility to minorities, and combat climate change misinformation. For brands, this means that if they want to have higher visibility, they will also have to think about how they will remain at this minimum in their communications.
Including before last year’s scandal, Facebook was already trying to be more aware of some sensitive content. In 2020, during the pandemic, many anti-vaccine posts were spread on social media platforms to scare people from getting vaccinated, including Musk as the generator of these comments.
Considering the virality of these platforms, this could cause the death of many people and cause the pandemic to continue for a longer time.
In this case, both Twitter and Instagram showed red flags every time someone made a post about COVID or vaccines explaining the importance of protecting themselves.
In the last year, Meta (signed by the parent company of Facebook and Instagram) admitted to removing 9.2 million posts of a harassing nature. It’s enough?
In addition, Twitter and Instagram recently announced that they will switch to chronological feeds to prevent users from turning on only mass-shared content, which tends to bring more fake news, hate speech and not give space to minorities. It is the beginning.
You should see:
If you like this topic, I recommend you watch Don’t Look Up, which was nominated for an Oscar in 2022. In this movie, director Adam McKay takes an interesting look at how we react to social media. In addition, he criticizes the manipulation of all kinds of communication companies.
The Internet is an ocean of information. The discussion about freedom of expression and society will live for a long time in our debates. It is up to us to keep our minds wide open to learn how to use them positively.
For marketers and digital professionals, the thing to consider is this: We are responsible for every piece of content we create and share. Our job is to make the digital environment a place where everyone feels safe to interact with other people and with brands. With good content and less conflict on social networks, companies can have more opportunities to grow.