The Spread of Misinformation and Social Media Contribution to the Propagation
Technological advancements, especially in the field of information communication have contributed greatly to information access. Consequently, the speed at which information spreads has escalated. This has led to an increase in the number of people who consume information. Unfortunately, with. Social media is in the spotlight for providing a platform for this spread (Valenzuela, Halpern, Katz, & Miranda, 2019), therefore, it is considered key among the spreaders of misinformation with Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp both being on the radar.
The spread of untrue information without necessarily having a motive to deceive is called misinformation. However, there’s a class of misinformation that is intended to deceive. With a deceptive motive, this is referred to as disinformation. Principally, misinformation impacts a population or group by creating fear and suspicion. If judged to be true and credible by the unwary, news prodigy may amount to misinformation. According to scholars, misinformation is the fabricated news that imitates news contents on the media (Tandoc Jr, Lim, & Ling, 6(2)), though, not organizational intent.
Misinformation derives its history from that of mass communication. Examples in the early times are the defamatory statements among political leaders communicated among the rivals in the Imperial and Renaissance Italy as is in Robert Darnton’s’ article of 2017. Europe and Italy, owing to the spread of a mechanized printing machine by Gutenberg, experienced an inflated rate of the spread of misinformation. A good example of what could amount to misinformation was the “Greate Moon Hoax” which was recorded in several articles that purported to explain life on the moon.
The truncated y-axis is widely known to contain visually misleading information.
Picture retrieved from https://www.datapine.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Truncated-Y-Axis-Data-Visualizations-Designed-To-Mislead.jpg
Recent Case of Misinformation
Recently, following the emergence of the coronavirus, there has been a lot of false information circulation in social media. With no vaccine or cure that is confirmed for the virus, many are been at risk of receiving and consuming false information concerning coronavirus (Mian & Khan, 2020). In complete disregard to the instructions and guidelines provided by health institutions, innocent and unsuspecting individuals face the risks of applying uncertified methods in a bid to keep safe from the deadly virus. As a result, some have bought into the ideas of black immunity against the virus, a lie that had been propagated reference to the low rates of both infections and mortality among the black race. This, however, amounts to misinformation since it does not anchor on any proven medical research.
The Spread, Spreaders, and Threats of Misinformation
Threats from Misinformation.
Generation, dissemination and propagation of false information can lead to fear, distrust, violence, and even create divisions in the society. For instance, the wrong information communicated about the COVID-19 pandemic could easily compromise individual health and lead to death if it contains wrong information on the management and treatment of the disease (Cook, Lewandowsky, & Ecker, 2017). Similarly, untrue and defamatory publications about a celebrity, especially a politician could have far-reaching political effects that can culminate into political rifts in a democratic state.
Spread and Spreaders of Misinformation
The spread of false information or fake news occurs via many different avenues. Firstly, there are the human aspects. Individuals who have the attention of the audience and command a large following of any nature, have a good podium on which to pass information. If part or whole of the information they pass is proven to be untrue, then that amount to the propagation of misinformation by the individual.
Secondly, the news media, in all its printed, audio, and visual forms, may spread information, even though not intentionally, but by disseminating information from unreliable sources to its subscribers. Thirdly, there is the contribution of social media in the spread of misinformation. With millions of subscribers across its different platforms, social media provides a perfect avenue for the propagation of untrue information. As a result, social media has put many people at risk of being deceived or misled by probably, unintentional circulation of unverified information or unhealthy individual opinions.
Pictorial emphasis on the susceptibility to misinformation.
Retrieved from: https://www.wikihow.com/Fact-Check-Misinformation#/Image:Fact-Check-Misinformation
Misinformation Spread Via the Social Media
The impact of social media concerning information access is a matter that cannot be downplayed. In the current era of information technology and communication, it has become difficult to differentiate between true and false information that comes out of social media. According to Fredrika Lahdenranta, in his publication on the role of social media in spreading false information, the rise of Donald Trump has greatly elaborated an era of multiple realities and distrust. Consequently, it is near impossible, partly due to the contribution by social media, to discriminate between completely true or false massages. For instance, the term “fake news” has been used by Trump and his allies in a move of discrediting their political adversaries on social media. These arguments, in most cases, paint the picture of alternate realities. As a result, there are an erosion and disappearance of fact-based realities.
Additionally, social media as a platform, not only provides the podium for political information but also other social and entertainment issues. It is from this of information and data accessible on social media that leads to a further convolution of the matter. According to Waltman, there exist a certain level of manipulation in the perceptions of the world. The manipulation is taking place unimaginably fast about time, intention, and space.
Effects of Misinformation
The effects of misinformation are informed by their most probable influences on memory. There are inaccuracies in the recalled information due to misconceptions that accrue from previous information received about an incident or event. Misinformation, therefore, is an example of distortions that come about at the time of reception of a new message due to the contents of the previous communication. According to research by Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher, the effects of misinformation gives a two-sided reflection on memory. It, therefore, influences other peoples’ predictions on one’s memory concerning false information.
Besides the stakeholders in information communication, the subscribers to social media platforms are affected uniquely by this menace. The political class, for example, may reap from the impacts arising from the misrepresentation of a competitor. On the other hand, the exact misrepresented information may influence the judgment and even decision making of a political formation. Essentially, to the stakeholders, it rolls down to the influence on opinions and judgments which can easily culminate into a loss of trust. To emphasize that, a close look into recent speculations that surrounded President Donald Trump’s hospitalization, alleging that it was a schematic political move, can easily influence the stance by some followers of the political formation he belongs to. Hence, the spread of misinformation exploits susceptibility. The degree of impacts of susceptibility, though, varies with certain traits and qualities like available working memory.
The picture with misleading messages circulated on Twitter contrary to regulations that prohibited large public gatherings at the time. Retrievedfrom:https://twitter.com/HilEgan/status/555103225314287616/photo/1
Recommendation on Mitigating Spread of Misinformation
Mitigating the spread of false information requires an all applied effort to succeed. Accordingly, there is at least one measure that everyone can take before consuming the information. Firstly, a check ought to be conducted on the legitimacy of the information emanating from any source to verify its contents and the author (Vosoughi, Roy, & Aral, 2018). Secondly, the audience should be sensitized on the need to avoid any engagements with bot accounts which has recently found a platform on Twitter. Lastly, there needs to be an awareness campaign on social media on the ethical and moral issues that relate to the misrepresentation of information, its social and political impacts in the society.
Misinformation, therefore, in this era of technological innovations in information communication, has emerged to be key among issues that threaten the safety and privacy of millions of people. With social media and its massive pulling into the frenzy, there is a need to expedite the fight against misinformation. Moreover, with the current high political temperatures that are experienced in most parts of the world, the spread of this menace could fuel politically derived instabilities. It is hence necessary to put the social media among other media platforms that are on the radar to further analysis, and research is conducted to establish a reliable and effective mechanism that can be put in place to stop the spread of misinformation. Last but not least, the creation of awareness among the stakeholders on the ethical dysfunctionality that is attributed to misrepresentation and distortion of information should be treated as apriority. This will enhance the moral and professional use of the various platforms that provide the avenues via which information is transmitted both intentionally and subconsciously. consequently, there will be more emphasis on the values that need to be adopted and the obligation by every individual, organization, or group in mitigating the spread of misinformation.
Cook, J., Lewandowsky, S., & Ecker, U. K. (2017). Neutralizing misinformation through inoculation: Exposing misleading argumentation techniques reduces their influence. PloS one, e0175799.
Mian, A., & Khan, S. (2020). Coronavirus: the spread of misinformation. BMC medicine, 18(1), 1-2.
Tandoc Jr, E. C., Lim, Z. W., & Ling, R. (6(2)). Defining “fake news” A typology of scholarly definitions. Digital journalism, 6(2), 137-153.
Valenzuela, S., Halpern, D., Katz, J. E., & Miranda, J. P. (2019). The paradox of participation versus misinformation: Social media, political engagement, and the spread of misinformation. Digital Journalism, 7(6), 802-823.
Vosoughi, S., Roy, D., & Aral, S. (2018). The spread of true and false news online. Science, 359(6380), 1146-1151.