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Navigating Echo Chambers, Fake News and Really Just the Internet in General

The addition of social media to the already Wild Wild West of the internet has changed the online experience. It’s time to refresh your expectations.

The Internet Is Devolving

The addition of social media to the already Wild Wild West of the internet has changed the online experience. It’s time to refresh your expectations.

By Alec Cudmore, St. Edward’s University

Social media is essentially a global family thanksgiving argument that never, ever ends.

The entire human race is stuck here together and they all want to love each other, but some idiot always has to ruin it. Things start out civilized enough, but a few hot-headed uncles and frustrated cousins will somehow transform any reasonable discussion into a shouting match that ends with the festivities winding down and ultimately collapsing.

Navigating Echo Chambers, Fake News and Really Just the Internet in General
Image via Electronic Beats

If a political debate over turkey sounds familiar, you’ve likely felt the frustration of explaining to others that their information is incorrect, or having people explain to you that your information is incorrect. Social media replicates this on an exponentially larger scale. Now, it’s not just your racist uncle, but everybody’s racist uncle that’s joining the fray.

So, how do you participate in the wonderfully connected world of social media without succumbing to false information, misguided journalism and complete fucking morons? Here are a few tips to get you started on weeding out the bullshit and keeping your eyes open for the truth.

1. Fact Check Everything (Yes, Everything)

It’s never as cumbersome as it sounds, I promise. Chances are that as you scroll through your feed, you will see hundreds of links to articles, and images with supposedly real quotes superimposed over them. It took a few iffy posts for me to start noticing that I had often taken it all at face value, never questioning where the information came from or how it had been spread.

Sometimes, the falseness is relatively benign, but false all the same.

For instance, this quote pops up on Facebook a lot from President Obama. When I first saw it, I had the feeling that while it sort of aligned with Obama’s views, it simply lacked that trademark Obama tact. A few more people posted it, and it seemed to be spreading like wildfire. The likes would pile up and the comments would pour in.

But something bugged me about it. Perhaps it was the boldness of the statement, or the fact that it didn’t seem at all like something a President would say. Most of all, it just seemed too convenient.

Sure enough, when my suspicions came to a head and I looked up the quote, I soon discovered that there was zero record of Obama saying anything of the sort. The only results were posts talking about the quote, and the “via” link from the official Obama tumblr didn’t lead to any sort of citation. Exhausting everything Google had to offer me, I came to the conclusion that someone had simply created a fake quote and was spreading it around.

It wasn’t an incriminating quote; in fact, one might argue that Obama wouldn’t mind having the quote associated with him at all. But the ease with which people accepted it as true seems troublesome. This was a small instance of dishonesty, mild and relatively harmless (despite being a fabrication). How much information does the public share and digest that is simply false?

It’s not about being cynical; it’s about understanding the power the media has in warping the truth. Taking what you read with a grain of salt, and learning to do research on your own, is a perfectly healthy way to do your own fact-checking and filter out the bullshit.

2. Ditch the Serial Sharers

People who share a ton on social media are often the loneliest, but it also links to a common trait amongst perpetrators of false information-spreading—they don’t read the articles. Serial sharers rarely fact check, and they are often more interested in the immediate social gratification of sharing than spreading genuine news. Sharing fake shit is a lot more satisfying when it requires no fact checking, no follow up research and little-to-no effort.

Rather than deleting all of your friends, it’s better to start exercising some fact-checking skills on a few problem children on your friend’s list. Pick out the serial sharers and look into their shares. Are they articulate, well-informed articles, or complete trash memes with fake quotes and clickbait headlines? Those who share the latter are best to be avoided.

Always use discretion when eliminating bad influences on yours newsfeed. Remove those who muddy up the truth, not those who might hold different views for you. People who are willing to debate their views in a civilized, kind manner are always a benefit to you.

3. Look Elsewhere for Civility

Facebook and Twitter are great for drama, but it’s normally no fun to be involved in a fight on either of those sites. Political articles and controversial status updates are often accompanied by a comment section that is, to put it lightly, on the unruly side. The top comments are often reserved for those who utterly disagree, and despite the lack of anonymity on Facebook, people have no trouble hurling insults and racial slurs at strangers.

The comment section is never going to change your mind, or anyone else’s for that matter.

Many sites do away with them because of how toxic and ultimately fruitless they can be. Do yourself a favor and save your words for a public forum of some sort, or among peers. Better yet, visit a site specifically designed for these debates and discussions to take place. Replying to an unreasonable Trump supporter, or an unreasonable Clinton supporter, yields the same result. Nothing changes, and you’ll likely walk away feeling more frustrated with the world than before.

Do your blood pressure a favor and understand the limits of the medium. While there are exceptions, Facebook and Twitter are not optimal locations for political chatter. All too often, anger gets the best of both positions, and it becomes more about “winning” than about the actual truth.

Trevor Noah recently wrote an op-ed for the “New York Times” about how the middle is where the truth often lies. A divisive country is more easily manipulated, he claims. If that’s the case, the sooner we can come to an understanding of each other, the better it will be for all of us.

Writer Profile

Alec Esteban Cudmore

St. Edward's University
English Writing & Rhetoric

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