What is social media truly for? Is it a free place for a political candidate to promote their ideas on social media freely? A platform for tyrants to spread disinformation? Is it simply a place for us to post monthly photo dumps? How have social media platforms allowed and promoted the spread of disinformation? As we continue through the digital age, what does this mean for modern America, and can the spread be stopped? Or are we too far gone and future generations are simply destined to live in a world behind a screen? In this article, I will discuss the ways in which social media has allowed for the rampant spread of disinformation, the effects it has on the United States within the last few years, and if there are any means that can be implemented that can stop disinformation from spreading.
Social media has become the primary platform in the spread of disinformation. It is a global platform that is often always free, and the ramifications are almost nonexistent. Long gone are the days where a person had to fight for the printing press and wait for their work to come to fruition. Social media has engineered platforms such as Instagram, Tiktok, and Facebook that are cultivated and designed to take individuals down the disinformation rabbit holes. Mounds of disinformation are often hidden behind a bold font, pretty words, and an outlandish headline. This is no mistake, and social media has allowed and promoted this. In an article regarding the dangers of the algorithm journalist Stephan Lewandowsky and Anastasia Kozyreva had the following to say regarding the fact that many major platforms disregard the safety of protecting viewers against dangerous or misleading content, “For example, YouTube’s recommendations amplify increasingly sensational content with the goal of keeping people’s eyes on the screen.” (Lewandowsky and Kozyreva). From this statement, it is quite obvious that social media holds engagement in high regard; therefore, they will push the headlines with the boldest title as those are what draw in the people. The people that oversee social media have little to no care regarding the type of information an individual consumes. Platforms use their algorithm and curate one’s own personal information hub which is how the spread of disinformation begins.
What does this excess of disinformation mean for America in the digital age? In truth, it implies that there is a more significant threat to our democracy. Disinformation breeds both ignorance and a collective identity. Both of these attributes immensely threaten democracy. When a person is ignorant, they remain blind to the spread of misinformation and disinformation, and they inadvertently continue the spread. When someone is not a free thinker, they remain stale in both their intellect and opinions, leaving no room for growth. This means the newer generation that is approaching adulthood, and that will soon hold positions of authority, specifically in politics and law, are more at risk of either being manipulated by misinformation or using the media themselves in order to spread misinformation. Also, whether some people want to believe it or not, they are our future presidents, governors, attorneys, and judges. If they fail at upholding the truth, then our democracy fails. Having access to multiple sources of information allows individuals to share their ideals, and it often warps our sense of self. As social media grows many people develop a warped view of their identity. They do not understand how to form their own opinions, and this way of thinking has had a profound impact. This can be seen in a quote by journalist Peter Pomerantsev, “It’s not just the belief that “more information” leads to better democracy that has been undermined by the digital era. Something more insidious is going on, in relation to our very idea about what a free person is.” (Pomerantsev). As the article states, the more information we are presented with the more our sense of identity is in danger. Media is inadvertently promoting collective identity.
As the world continues in its advancement of technology, there is often the question if anything can be done to stop the spread of disinformation on social media. While disinformation can never truly die, there are ways that the spread can be slowed. Social media developers could redesign their platforms in order to make it harder for disinformation to be presented. By taking away such a carefully constructed algorithm forces the people to search for the disinformation themselves instead of it being presented directly to them. Secondly, developers could hire a greater number of people or implore more technology to be searching out and flagging disinformation. Finally, they could implement a pop-up window on the screen which would warn the person that what they are about to read is proven disinformation before the person actually views the information. I understand that many people will have their doubts about these changes, and the argument could be made about censorship. However, when looking at the solutions I have proposed, it doesn’t allow for censorship; it simply safeguards the vulnerable from disinformation. If a person is so keen on searching for, or posting information that is disingenuous or proven false, they would still have the ability to do so; however, that information would simply not have the ability to be as widely spread.
As it stands today, while many platforms have integrated some safeguards, the spread of disinformation still continues, and it will continue as long as people are allowed to consume whatever they please at a moment’s notice. With the election year in the United States growing closer, disinformation is also more likely to appear as political candidates seek to bolster themselves and slander their opponents. Social media will play the starring role in this election, as it has in the past, and if the people in power chose to remain ignorant to the issues at hand, then the general republic must remain vigilant in avoiding the onslaught of disinformation they will soon find themselves in. Overall, the media is a powerful tool, and it will continue to grow in the coming years. I implore you all to do your research on disinformation and look at the media with an objective lens.
Lewandowsky, Stephan, and Anastasia Kozyreva. “Algorithms, Lies, and Social Media.” OpenMind Magazine, 15 Dec. 2022, Accessed 20 Nov. 2023.
Pomerantsev, Peter. “The Disinformation Age: A Revolution in Propaganda.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 July 2019, Accessed 20 Nov. 2023.
Photo By Alexander Shatov “(Usplash) Creative Commons Zero License”