What will 2022 bring in terms of disinformation on social media? 3 experts intervene

Anjana Susarla, University of Michigan; Dam Hee Kim, University of Arizona, and Ethan Zuckerman, UMass Amherst

At the end of 2020, it seemed hard to imagine a worse year for social media disinformation, given the intensity of the presidential election and the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic. But 2021 has proven to be up to the task, starting with the January 6 insurgency and continuing with many falsehoods and distortions about COVID-19 vaccines.

To get an idea of ​​what 2022 could bring, we interviewed three researchers on the evolution of disinformation on social networks.

Without regulation, disinformation will get worse

Anjana Susarla, Professor of Information Systems, Michigan State University

While disinformation has always existed in the media – think of the Big Moon hoax of 1835 which claims life was discovered on the Moon – the advent of social media has dramatically increased the reach, spread, and reach of disinformation. Social media platforms have evolved into public information services that control how most people view the world, making the disinformation they facilitate a fundamental problem for society.

There are two main challenges to tackling disinformation. The first is the lack of regulatory mechanisms to remedy it. Forcing transparency and giving users better access and control over their data could go a long way in addressing the challenges of disinformation. But independent audits are also needed, including tools that assess social media algorithms. These can establish how the choices of social media platforms in curating news feeds and presenting content affect the way people view information.

The second challenge is that racial and gender bias in the algorithms used by social media platforms exacerbate the problem of disinformation. While social media companies have introduced mechanisms to highlight authoritative sources of information, solutions such as labeling posts as disinformation do not address racial and gender biases in accessing news. ‘information. Highlighting relevant sources of health information, for example, can only help users with greater health knowledge and not people with poor health knowledge, who tend to be minorities in a way. disproportionate.

Justine Cassell from Carnegie Mellon University discusses algorithmic bias at the 2019 World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum, CC BY-NC-SA

Another problem is the need to systematically examine where users find erroneous information. TikTok, for example, has largely escaped government scrutiny. Additionally, disinformation targeting minorities, especially Spanish-language content, can be much worse than disinformation targeting majority communities.

I think the lack of independent audits, the lack of transparency in fact-checking, and the racial and gender bias underlying the algorithms used by social media platforms suggest that the need for regulatory action in 2022 is urgent. and immediate.


Growing divisions and cynicism

Dam Hee Kim, Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Arizona

Fake news is not a new phenomenon, but its costs have reached another level in recent years. Misinformation regarding COVID-19 has claimed countless lives around the world. False and misleading information about elections can undermine the foundations of democracy, for example by making citizens lose confidence in the political system. The research I conducted with S Mo Jones-Jang and Kate Kenski on disinformation during elections, some published and others in progress, revealed three key findings.

The first is that the use of social media, originally designed to connect people, can facilitate social disconnection. Social networks have become riddled with misinformation. This leads citizens who consume information on social media to become cynical not only towards established institutions such as politicians and the media, but also towards other voters.

Second, politicians, the media and voters have become the scapegoats for “fake news”. Few of them actually produce disinformation. Much of the misinformation is produced by foreign entities and fringe political groups who create “fake news” for financial or ideological gain. Yet citizens who consume disinformation on social media tend to blame politicians, the media, and other voters.

The third observation is that people who care about being properly informed are not immune to misinformation. People who prefer to process, structure and understand information in a coherent and meaningful way become more politically cynical after being exposed to perceived “fake news” than people who are less politically sophisticated. These critical thinkers are frustrated with having to deal with so much false and misleading information. This is troubling because democracy depends on the participation of engaged and thoughtful citizens.

Looking ahead to 2022, it is important to fight against this cynicism. Much has been said about media literacy interventions, mainly to help the less politically informed. In addition, it is important to find ways to explain the status of “fake news” on social media, especially who produces “fake news”, why certain entities and groups produce it, and which Americans fall into the trap. . It might help prevent people from becoming more politically cynical.

Rather than blaming each other for the wrongdoing of “fake news” produced by foreign entities and fringe groups, people need to find a way to restore trust in one another. Mitigating the effects of disinformation will contribute to the larger goal of overcoming societal divisions.


Propaganda under another name

Ethan Zuckerman, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Communication and Information, UMass Amherst

I expect the idea of ​​disinformation to turn into a propaganda idea in 2022, as sociologist and media scholar Francesca Tripodi suggests in her upcoming book, “The Propagandist’s Playbook”. Most misinformation is not the result of an innocent misunderstanding. It is the product of specific campaigns to advance a political or ideological agenda.

Once you realize that Facebook and other platforms are the battlegrounds on which contemporary political campaigns take place, you can let go of the idea that all you need are facts to correct public misconceptions. people. What’s going on is a more complex mix of persuasion, tribal affiliation, and signage, playing out in places ranging from social media to search results.

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As the 2022 election heats up, I expect platforms like Facebook to reach a breaking point when it comes to disinformation, as some lies have become political rhetoric at the heart of party affiliation. How do social media platforms deal when false speech is political speech too?

Anjana Susarla, Professor of Information Systems, University of Michigan; Dam Hee Kim, Assistant Professor of Communication, University of Arizona, and Ethan Zuckerman, associate professor of public policy, communication and information, UMass Amherst

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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