Speaking as a teenager in the United States, it is safe to say I spend a lot of my time on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etcetera. Currently, I have been seeing many people post about where they stand politically. However, I have repeatedly found a lot of these posts to be providing disinformation and misinformation, and I wanted to understand how and why this information is being spread so easily, and how we as a society can put a stop to it.
On Tuesday, October 6th, I attended New York University’s Virtual Talk where I had the chance to hear Opal Tometi, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, speak on what had inspired her to start Black Lives Matter and the movement in general. She explained how Black Lives Matter was intentionally started on social media because she wanted their message and tools to be easily accessible and available to everyone. Tometi recognized that media outlets would not cover the movement and uplift their voices like social media would, and she wanted people to feel empowered to use their voice. This led to Tometi discussing the topic of disinformation throughout social media, as she stated that there is currently a disinformation case occurring against the movement. At the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement this year, the media portrayed many of the protests that turned violent, showing the rioting and looting throughout major cities. This led to an uproar of individuals creating the generalization that the Black Lives Matter movement was dangerous; even President Donald Trump stated that cities run by Democrats are “going to hell” due to the violence and intensity of these protests. This is exactly what disinformation intends to achieve as it is used to target and mischaracterize a specific group or movement such as Black Lives Matter and depict them as extremists. In reality, over ninety-three percent of all protests and demonstrations tied to Black Lives Matter are peaceful and have been reported in over two thousand and four hundred locations across the nation, yet the media does not document them. This is because the media covers protests from the perspective of elite power holders such as politicians and law enforcement, providing a top-down view that works to reinforce the current power structure. Therefore, the media covers the most dramatic parts of the protests like lighting cars on fire and smashing windows to create an appealing visual for their stories. Generally, only a small amount of people engage in violent actions such as these and, in many cases, those engaging in these acts are not even partaking in the protest and only want to take advantage of the opportunity to participate in violent actions.
In regard to misinformation, Opal Tometi explained that a large number of individuals falsely believe that the Black Lives Matter movement is strictly about police brutality when it is about everything. Much like those who combat the phrase “Black Lives Matter” with “All Lives Matter,” Tometi stated that these people are divorced from reality and are explicitly attempting to harm. Unlike disinformation, misinformation does not intentionally try to spread false or harmful information. Instead, the person may be unaware that the information is false and mistakenly spread the information. Unfortunately, nearly seventy-five percent of the time American adults are fooled by fake news headlines. There are even “bots” designed to purposefully manipulate social media discourse by generating and spreading fake news stories through fake accounts. These bots can even go as far as interacting with other people’s accounts by answering their questions, commenting on their posts, etcetera. This is incredibly unfortunate for movements like Black Lives Matter, as it spreads rumors and misleads individuals to believing false information like how the movement is strictly about police brutality.
The immediate solution that came to my mind in preventing the spread of disinformation and misinformation was for the government to interfere and censor certain posts and news articles, but realistically they should avoid censoring content and crackdowns on media outlets as strict guidelines limit freedom of expression. Instead, social media platforms should be held accountable and news outlets should focus on high-quality journalism to form a trustworthy relationship with their audiences. There are even organizations such as Politifact and Factcheck.org that aid in educating citizens on which sites have a track record of generating false and misleading information, which I believe should be utilized to their full potential.
As someone who makes an effort to educate themselves and avoid false information, it is unfortunate to see important movements like Black Lives Matter be subject to such harmful material. I believe that more Americans need to take full advantage of the resources at our fingertips to educate ourselves on important topics like Black Lives Matter to avoid false and misleading information. Opal Tometi emphasized that this movement aimed for justice, and she wanted to use online tools to bring the movement to life. Even though Tometi has experienced every type of misinformation and disinformation conflict aimed toward the Black Lives Matter movement, she and the organization will continue to persevere in making their voices heard.
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Hauck, Grace, et al. “’A Fanciful Reality’: Trump Claims Black Lives Matter Protests Are Violent, but the Majority Are Peaceful.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 25 Oct. 2020, www.usatoday.com/in-depth/news/nation/2020/10/24/trump-claims-blm-protests-violent-but-majority-peaceful/3640564001/. Accessed 19 Nov. 2020.
Kishi, Roudabeh, and Sam Jones. “Demonstrations & Political Violence in America: New Data for Summer 2020.” ACLED, 3 Sept. 2020, acleddata.com/2020/09/03/demonstrations-political-violence-in-america-new-data-for-summer-2020/. Accessed 19 Nov. 2020.
McLeod, Doug. “Five Problems with How the Media Cover Protests.” Poynter, 25 June 2020, www.poynter.org/ethics-trust/2020/five-problems-with-how-the-media-covers-protests/. Accessed 19 Nov. 2020.
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“‘Misinformation’ vs. ‘Disinformation’: Get Informed On The Difference.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/e/misinformation-vs-disinformation-get-informed-on-the-difference/. Accessed 19 Nov. 2020.