Part 1: The Internet
Lately, I’ve found being on social media to be a little bit overwhelming. Mostly because there just always seems to be mass amounts of information coming at me from every direction and it feels like there’s no time to sort through it all.
Seemingly, that’s just how the digital age works.
I’m more concerned with news and information on the world. Information spreads on the internet like drops of ink stirred into water; it goes in every direction all at once and becomes concentrated so quickly that you can’t tell where that initial drop was.
I’m sure most avid users of the internet are aware of just how quickly things happen on here. What I do want to highlight though, is more often than not we don’t know where this information comes from. And given how quickly content comes and goes, especially when it comes to posting and sharing, we usually don’t bother checking.
And herein lies a little bit of a problem.
Part 2: The Conundrum
Recently with the uprisings in Sudan, there have been many different social media posts that have made their way around various platforms. And rightly so; there have been huge human rights violations and miscarriages of justice that the world needed to know about.
People were pushing for international action, condemnation, support — all of which was surprisingly missing. And many people were geared up and ready to do something to help.
In the midst of explainers by various news organisations and posts from those on the ground in Sudan or those directly affected by this crisis, there was a post that was circulating. From an account called thesudanmealproject, the post being shared read ‘for every person that follows and shares this on their story we will provide one meal to starving Sudanese children’.
This post was shared by many people all over the world and the account was increasing in follower numbers.
I’m sure it was of the purest intent that many people did share it. It seemed like it was something simple we could do to help for an atrocity so far removed from us. All people wanted to do was help.
And yet it turned out that this account was doing all of that for clout and followers. It was not anyone that had any ties to an NGO and definitely not anyone capable of getting aid into Sudan.
Maybe everyone figured no one could possibly take advantage of a situation like this. Or at least hoped they wouldn’t. And really, you don’t lose anything by sharing a post that stays on your story for 24 hours. So why not?
Unfortunately, in an internet filled with everything and anything, there are people that will definitely take advantage of hype to get attention. Even though in this case, the harm was minimal — someone got attention they didn’t deserve, people thought they were helping when they weren’t — this isn’t a practice we should encourage.
Part 3: The Spread of (Mis) Information
Back in 2018, researchers conducted a study on the spread of information on Twitter and found that false information tends to outperform true information. Meaning tweets that hold information that is untrue get retweeted more and are the ones that people engage with more.
There are numerous articles out there talking about fake news and the like. Many surveys show that people are in fact aware of this problem and are concerned about fake news. People know that not everything on the internet is true.
But somehow the problem of false information keeps creeping up. And I know it’s not solely on consumers to fix everything. Responsibility for fake news on the internet is a complex web, tangled through many different stakeholders.
So, while social media platforms definitely have a role to play, especially when it comes to algorithms, consumers like us also have a part in this.
Part 4: Be Critical of the Internet
Because the internet is so vast and immeasurable, individual users need to be more vigilant and aware of how they are using any platform on the internet. That is to say, you need to know where you’re getting your information from.
Check which account has posted the article (are they a trusted source?), check whether the information posted is accredited to someone, check to see if it comes from reliable news sources (this means ones that are held accountable if they post false information).
Sometimes it could be as simple as tracing a post back to its original poster and see if the claims made are true. Look at other activity on their account, who they follow, which of your friends follow them, and what information is contained in their previous posts.
I understand that it takes effort and time; to be honest some days I’m way too tired after work to be sitting and doing research on social media afterwards. But if you are going to be sharing news and information, it is vital that you take care with it.
Be critical about whose work you’re sharing. Is that someone who’s voice you want to amplify? Who will it benefit should you decide to share this person’s post? What are you trying to achieve by sharing this post?
I understand that it’s a lot. And it’s difficult sifting through all the information. But I’d rather have my bookmarks tab on Twitter and saved tab on Instagram be filled with articles, posts and threads I have yet to read instead of sharing something without properly verifying and actually reading the content in its entirety only to realise it’s untrue.
Featured image via Unsplash