Thursday, 1 June 2017

Is Social Media Ruining Our Future?

Social media is the pulsating heart of modern day society, a vital organ without which we cannot survive. It beats with such a potent mechanical ferocity that it consumes us. Yet, absent from its core is empathy; a key emotion in the functioning of any heart.

This is particularly prevalent in times of world crises, where social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter become the dominating force as users desperately seek instant updates, from eye witnesses, friends, family, news outlets and celebrities. This is where the chaos begins.

Far to regularly information provided online by non-verified (and sometimes even the verified) sources are bolstered on misguided fiction, or, to put it more concisely: FAKE NEWS. Users tactically work to be the first to share information on global events to benefit their follower count, ultimately working towards becoming a viral sensation. This behaviour emits rationale from people’s consciousness, prompting them to act before they think, promoting irresponsibility.

In the wake of the Manchester attack, a viral post from 2013 re-surfaced on Facebook. It appeared on my timeline simply because several of my common connections had shared it. The lengthy post detailed how Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, had told immigrants to ‘learn English’ or leave Australia, quoting her as saying: ‘Immigrants, not Australians, must adapt...take it or leave it.’ The post has garnered over 38,000 shares since it was uploaded, four years ago. But, do those 38,904 people know that it is fake?

Dubious of the viral post, I researched it on Google, to learn within 30 seconds that it’s an elaborate hoax. Infact, that 30 seconds in itself was unnecessary, for the creator of the post had even commented on it himself to declare it as a fake, in an update littered with laughing emojis. But, it is no laughing matter. The post has been seen by millions across the globe. The damage has already been done.

I questioned one of my Facebook friends that shared the post, alerting them to the fact that it was false. I felt guilty that they had been tricked by the highly provocative status update. However, my concerns were met with a simple response of, “Well, it’s true.” Remarkably, the lines of fact and fiction become blurred online when you introduce people’s personal opinions, and this is where the trouble lies. Opinions. We are all entitled to them, but can you really declare your own opinion as an excuse for contributing to fake news? Whilst you may agree with what you are reading, if it is false, it is invalid and potentially damaging to society.

Ironically, many of those that shared the hate filled post (mostly out of fear rather than actual understanding) are the same people who cry out, wounded, when the news giants are caught peddling fake news. If CNN and the BBC are forbidden from embellishing the truth, then so should Mr Stevens, your old hockey coach, on Facebook. In short, do not endorse fake news, no matter where it originates from.
Elaborate internet hoaxes are not new, they have just evolved. Instead of haunting email chains that would promise you a visit from a deadly ghost if you did not forward them, we now have Facebook at our fingertips with an array of fake stories on a daily basis. Remember in 2014 when it was globally believed that you could charge your iPhone in a microwave? Fake. Or, again in 2014 when a young dog attack victim was asked to leave a KFC restaurant due to their unsightly scars? Fake. How about when France banned citizens from working any later than 6pm? Fake. What about when reputable news sources told us that redheads faced extinction? FAKE. Surely, nobody would make fake news out of a celebrity death? Wrong. Macaulay Culkin, Sylvester Stallone and Eddie Murphy have all been victims of viral death hoaxes online, which many of us believed momentarily.

Just like we became wise to the Facebook statuses of 2008 that prompted us to ‘Copy & Paste, or your mum will die tonight,’ we will also become wise to fake news in our timelines. Although, this time we will become wise not because we want to, to save humiliation, but because we need to, to save humanity. If you think I am being dramatic, then just know that 961,000 Facebook users shared a post in 2016 that falsely claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump in the presidential election. The significant impact this fake news may have had on thousands of American’s who believed it, will have contributed many votes to the Trump campaign.

You will have unwittingly, or even wittingly, contributed to fake news, even if it was just via a simple re-tweet. The headline you saw captured your attention and provoked a reaction promoting you to share the piece without delving deeper, or maybe without even reading the article. I am guilty, we all are guilty. Someone you trust online may have shared it before you, leading you to believe it is safe. A global news source may have posted it originally, meaning that it must be genuine. A celebrity has shared it, so naturally, it is true. Wrong, wrong and wrong again.

We have become too comfortable online. Almost spoon-fed. So, now that we cannot regress any further, it is time to grow. It is time to find truth in what we share and write online. It is time that we worked together to eradicate fake news from become viral on Twitter and Facebook.  

As the general election fast approaches in England, I urge you to share with care. We live in tumultuous times, where a small lie online can impact our whole future. If you don’t believe me, then just go back through the fake news archives to the U.S presidential election and learn how Hillary Clinton was supposedly running a child sex ring out of a pizza shop and that Donald Trump had offered free one-way tickets to Africa and Mexico for those that wanted to leave the U.S after he was elected president.

Share with care. Read, research and rubbish any embellished truths or straight up lies. You have the power to change the future, for the better.

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