Astronomical in length, Mark Zuckerberg posted a letter to his Facebook page pronouncing a series of alterations to the social network’s unofficial mission statement that has been a long time coming titled ‘Building Global Community’. The epic message acknowledges both the mistakes that have been made and reflects on where Facebook is headed. Although most of the policy put forward is absolutely necessary to advance Facebook as a channel of diverse communication, there are still some points which remain under question.
One section addresses ‘Informed Community’ whereby worries surrounding fake news, filter bubbles, sensationalism and polarization are brought into discussion. With over 1.86 billion monthly active users on Facebook as of March 2017, the number of individuals exposed to news on social media platforms has dramatically increased, but how much of the information is true?
Social media is by no means intended as a platform to obtain news, and whilst this new feature is becoming ever-more present, articles submitted are typically written by citizens outside of respectable professional bodies resulting in the distribution of unreliable news. Zuckerberg states, “our approach will focus less on banning misinformation, and more on surfacing additional perspectives and information, including that fact checkers dispute an item’s accuracy.” While presenting a diversity of perspectives creates well-informed citizens, the issue still lies in the circulation of ‘fake news’. These dishonest pieces hold the potential to be of particular harm to inexperienced consumers, including youths, who are likely to lack the media literacy skills required to critically engage with dubious material and are likely to subsequently fail spotting unreliable news.
While accuracy of sources is undoubtedly important, ‘filter bubbles’ are additional cause for major concern. These can restrict Facebook users from viewing particular information deemed ‘uninteresting’ to the individual based on algorithms monitoring previous activity. Surely this is an attack on democracy. Providing users with a more complete picture of the news is compulsory, and research shows that exposing individuals to a range of perspectives, allowing them to conclude what is right for themselves, is the most effective method for a well-informed citizen.
Despite these anxieties, Zuckerberg’s major concern encompasses sensationalism and polarization on social media. As a short-form medium where resonant messages get amplified many times in order to attract attention and gain a reading, social media favors astonishing headlines promising sensational content. As a consequence, simplicity is rewarded and nuance is discouraged as he explains, “some people share stories based on sensational headlines without ever reading the story.” As these elaborate headlines intend to attract a large readership, there is potential for the oversimplification of significant topics resulting in a decrease of substantially important information. In some cases, information may even be skewed in favor of the author’s views. This polarization pushes readers towards extremes, and with polarized opinions means loss in common understanding. Surely this mocks traditional journalistic practices, diminishing the number of informed citizens and weakening democracy.
Do you believe anything social media tells us?