While surfing Facebook the other day, a posting that caught my eye was entitled …
Marijuana Contains “Alien DNA” From Outside Of Our Solar System, NASA Confirms
My immediate thought was “That’s Bullshit”. If it had been via DavidIcke.com or some other similar dubious source then I would have simply rolled my eyes and moved on, but since this was coming from IFLScience (I Fucking Love Science), I was rather rather surprised, so I clicked the link to see what was up, and did wonder if IFLS had been hacked.
This was the reveal …
We here at IFLS noticed long ago that many of our followers will happily like, share and offer an opinion on an article – all without ever reading it. We’re not the only ones to notice this. Last April, NPR shared an article on their Facebook page which asked “Why doesn’t America read anymore?”. The joke, of course, is that there was no article. They waited to see if their followers would weigh in with an opinion without clicking the link, and they weren’t disappointed.
Ha, yes of course.
Is there any real analysis here?
Here is a paper entitled … Social Clicks: What and Who Gets Read on Twitter?
The TL;DR; summary is that people are basically sharing stuff that they don’t actually read at all. I know that most of you will not be reading that or checking that link (who has time?), so ask yourself this … is that a real study?
Actually yes it is.
So do you trust me, or will you check?
If you read what I write then you will have learned from experience that I check my links, so you might be confident enough to feel the need to not do so.
We can’t check and verify everything, that is the reality of the volume of information that we bask in, and so we tend to take shortcuts to be able to cope. Specific websites or media outlets establish a consistent degree of trust, but as for social media in general (Twitter, Facebook, etc…) it is quite random and so that model of trust does not work.
We generally build a community of people we trust, our friends, and so we gain a degree of trust that what they share is consistently reliable (or at least is in tune with our thinking). What happens is that the algorithms that select what we see often change and so they can fool one of our friends into sharing stuff from a dubious source. Because we trust them, we in turn share it without checking.
Urban Legends on Steroids
What is fascinating is that there is rather a lot of information (and misinformation) sloshing about out there, and many of us are simply skimming the surface and are not actually consuming it at all, nor even really pondering over what is and is not true. Instead we grasp what is being said via just the headline, or perhaps a brief paragraph and then happily share it.
We are perhaps suffering from information overload, and so we happily post such links as a way of making a statement about who we are and what we care about. The things that align with our thoughts and beliefs get shared, and also the things that amuse or shock us as well. This is perhaps a form of natural selection for such information because the stuff that fails to attract any real interest will rapidly fade.
We have always exchanged information and told each other stories. What is different is that the volume of that information flow has greatly accelerated and so we cope with this increased volume on social media by skimming the surface. The net effect is that rather a lot of misinformation gets promoted.
Hillary Clinton is the most honest candidate in the US election, (check that link if you wish, it really is true), yet it is a rather popular idea that she is one of the most dishonest and is about to go to jail, and even those in her own party often embrace that view.
A recent meme that popped up, and keeps popping up is this …
… and yet none of this is true, not one word.
When it popped up yet again recently, I shared my debunking of this myth.
My debunk was purged and I was blocked.
That perhaps illustrates that many are simply not interested in finding out what is really true, and would far rather embrace a flow of information that aligns what whatever they perceive to be “truth” and discard anything and everything that does not align with that.
The term we often bandy about to describe our age is the “Information Age”, but perhaps it can more accurately be described the “Misinformation Age”. With so many absorbing a torrent of fictitious information as fact it should come as no surprise to observe the emergence of Trump or that the UK voted against what is actually in their best interests and opted to quit the EU after a political BREXIT campaign that is now demonstrated to have been one of the most dishonest political campaigns ever seen in the UK.
Bottom Line: Think about the serious stuff that you are sharing and ask yourself it it is actually credible, reliable or true. Also build up a list of dubious sources and so whenever you see stuff from one of them, it becomes an instant “bullshit” alert, no matter who shared it.