In a public appearance at Stanford, former president Barack Obama called for greater “regulatory oversight” of large social media giants. He argued that their power to select and provide information that people consume has charged political polarization and “threatened the pillars of democracy”. Obama’s comments were just the most recent in his ongoing conversation about how to stop the spread of misinformation.
The conversation surrounding misinformation and it’s spread has been a hot topic for years now, and according to Forbes, discerning correct and incorrect information on social media is becoming more and more challenging. Whether it is about the presidential election, climate change, COVID-19 vaccines and variants, there is all sorts of misinformation that is easily accessible and shared.
Misinformation through social media is a danger to democracy because the media that the public consumes has a large impact on the political sphere. When used appropriately, social media has many benefits such as accessibility to political information and aiding people in forming their political ideology due to educational resources. However, biased information or misinformation can also affect political preferences, and misinformation in social media can have a powerful effect on public opinion. Spreading misinformation through social media can strengthen antidemocratic forces and lead to a broken democracy.
For example, during the COVID-19 crisis, when the government was telling people to get vaccinated and misinformation spread through social media is telling people that COVID-19 and the vaccines are a hoax, people become confused and developed a mistrust of the government.
Because of the way that misinformation spreads through social media, companies must subject their algorithms to the same kind of regulatory oversight that ensures the safety of cars, food, and other consumer products, an argument that former President Obama made yesterday at Stanford. The power that social media wields can erode the foundations of democracy.
However, social media platforms have no interest in getting rid of misinformation because there is no profit in deleting and preventing it. In fact, social media giants such as Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube actually profit from misinformation due to how people engage with it. To social media platforms, as long as users are interacting with any content on their platform, it does not matter if the information is true or false.
Personally, I believe that social media should be regulated due to the proven impacts they have had on the political sphere, but it is unlikely that they will due to misinformation’s profitable nature. Because of this, when engaging with content on social media, users must be able to discern important political information from misinformation created to confuse or invalidate the democracy. This includes but is not limited to looking at who is posting the information, what information is being shared, and thinking critically about what the intent is.