There are less than one month before the midterm elections and there is concern that social media misinformation and disinformation spreading on the internet continues to grow. The risk of misinformation being used to influence voters and influence elections seems greater as more Americans rely on these platforms for information and news.
Michelle Ciulla Lipkin (executive director, National Association for Media Literacy Education) stated that while social media platforms have been exploring new solutions and supporting essential programs, they still need to do more.
What’s the Future of Business?
The problem is that social media’s business model actually encourages the spreading of fake news.
Lipkin said that harmful information can be magnified by the media landscape, which profits from clicks and views.
But, it is being changed.
Professor of Global Business Strategy at SMU’s Cox School of Business, David Jacobson stated that Facebook is still under pressure to help in the efforts of China and Russia to subvert the citizens faith in democracy in America.
Jacobson explained that many of the conspiracy stories of far-right were the result of Russian’s FSB and the People’s Republic of China’s private ministry of propaganda. These efforts began even before 2016’s election. It grew in direct influence over the election and Facebook and its affiliates knew this was being used to spread false news stories.
There is now much greater scrutiny and more advanced tools available to detect foreign actors’ efforts and track Facebook’s responses in real time. Jacobson said that it is still unclear whether Facebook or other platforms would take such active roles without third-party scrutiny. Jacobson also expressed concern about the possibility of regulation in the future.
There was more to be done
Experts have suggested, however, that Facebook’s decision to remove misinformation networks from its platform is not enough or too late.
“The 2020 United States election was rife with non-state and state actors disseminating misinformation. Although it’s not known how these campaigns affected election results, there are still many Americans who believe the election was “rigged” because of misinformation and lies,” stated Dr. William Pelfrey Jr. from Virginia Commonwealth University’s Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
Pelfrey stated that the social media platforms have a responsibility to limit the dissemination of fake news information and verify that users are authentically representing themselves.
He warned that “failing to do one of these will lead to a snowball effect misinformation.” “If a social media participant who claims to be a U.S. Citizen – but is actually an agent of a state – posts a link to a false news story (i.e. A fabricated NY Times article or BBC article, then that fake news is distributed, redistributed, redistributed again and again, giving it the appearance of being fact.
Is There a Breaking Point?
It is believed that social media will continue to absolve them of their responsibilities for restricting misinformation dissemination and certifying participants. Federal regulation may force them into action.
Facebook is expected to increase their monitoring of misleading and malicious posts in the run-up to the election. Facebook’s reputation was destroyed in 2020 in part due to their free speech beliefs and partly because of the sheer arrogance of their influence,” James Bailey, Professor of Leadership at George Washington University School of Business, said.
Vigilance is now the name of the game for Facebook for the next few months – but likely only because of the past scrutiny. There is still much work to be done on the social network.
Bailey stated that blocking a handful of subversive Russian or Chinese accounts was a good start. But that is a small amount compared to millions of people who spew vitriol. It is believed by people who act on it in large numbers or even mobs.
What is the Spread for this Year?
Facebook will be holding the next 2022 midterm elections to contain misinformation and diinformation. It is not yet clear if this can happen.
Bailey pointed out that algorithms can only be as good as their programmers.
Bailey thought, “Delayed postings until eyes can take up a look,” Bailey thought. It was impossible from a labor perspective, or considering how flawed human judgments can be.
It may instead be about teaching Americans to not believe every post on social media.
“All participants on social media should treat information with skepticism – there are sophisticated and well-funded agents actively trying to mislead us,” added Pelfrey. Social media is not intended for news dissemination, but has been corrupted with alarming efficiency.
The best method to combat misinformation is through media literacy education. But, it’s possible that the effort of spreading media literacy might be enhanced by the inclusion of large coalitions of individuals and groups.
National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) is currently working to draw attention to the issue via U.S. Media Literacy Week, which starts on October 24, 2022. Although progress is being made already, there are still many things to do.
Lipkin said that “since the 2016 Presidential Election, there has been increasing public awareness about the issues surrounding false election information.” We must not forget the fact that many people knew very little about algorithms or what social media companies did with our data prior to 2016.
She added that while we actually have come far in the last six years, there is still a long way to go to solve these issues – but added that the fault remains on society. Media literacy is key to our fight against false news and misinformation. The United States doesn’t invest significant amounts of government funding or effort in media literacy research, implementation, and training. Shame on us.