Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday November 7, 2023
Opinion: Beware the Deceptive Nature of Anonymous Social Media Commentators
In today’s digital age, where information is readily available at our fingertips, it has become increasingly important to exercise caution and critical thinking when consuming content on social media platforms. While these platforms have undoubtedly revolutionized the way we connect and share information, they have also become breeding grounds for misinformation and deception. Anonymous commentators posing as experts can easily manipulate narratives, leading unsuspecting individuals down a dangerous path of false beliefs and harmful ideologies.
The rise of misinformation and disinformation on social media is a pressing concern that we must address. Misinformation, defined as the act of giving wrong information or the wrong information itself, can distort facts and mislead individuals. It may start innocently, like a game of telephone, with once-true statements being scrambled and taken out of context. However, misinformation can quickly escalate into something more sinister. When coupled with disinformation, which is intentionally spread false information, it can radicalize individuals or trick them into believing harmful mistruths about various subjects, from medicine to politics.
The psychological phenomenon known as the “misinformation effect” further highlights the danger of misinformation. It refers to the retroactive alteration of a person’s memory by false information learned after the fact. This rewiring of memory can not only distort historical events but also implant entirely new memories. Even the most intelligent and educated individuals with great memories can fall victim to misinformation, particularly when it aligns with their existing biases.
Social media platforms have become a fertile ground for the spread of misinformation. The ability to share information quickly and to a wide audience makes it an ideal medium for manipulative individuals to disseminate false narratives. In recent years, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have faced scrutiny for their role in allowing misinformation to spread rapidly, particularly during events like elections and the COVID-19 pandemic. Echo chambers and confirmation bias further exacerbate the problem, as individuals are sorted into communities that reinforce their existing beliefs, distancing them further from the truth.
To combat the spread of misinformation, it is crucial to develop news literacy skills. News literacy refers to the ability to determine the credibility of news and other information and to recognize the standards of fact-based journalism. It involves critically evaluating the source, author, and reporting standards to determine the reliability of the information. Asking questions like “What do I know?”, “What do I need to know?”, “How do I know what I know?”, and “Is there any other way to look at that?” can help individuals navigate the complex web of information and identify potential misinformation.
Homeland security experts have expressed concern about the impact of online misinformation on extremist ideologies in the United States. The war between Israel and Hamas has heightened tensions, leading to an increase in hateful rhetoric and the spread of extremist viewpoints online. Online communities that espouse extremist beliefs, often leaderless and decentralized, have contributed to the rise of violence and terrorism. Identifying lone actors who commit acts of violence misrepresents the broader online communities that fuel their extremist ideologies.
Analysis: How to fix the internet
The responsibility to combat misinformation lies not only with individuals but also with social media platforms. Big tech companies must take proactive measures to limit the spread of misinformation and disinformation. The European Commission’s request for information from social media giants like Meta (formerly Facebook), TikTok, and X (formerly Twitter) regarding their handling of content related to the Israel-Hamas war is an important step towards holding these platforms accountable. Transparency, fact-checking, and robust moderation practices are essential to ensure the safety and accuracy of information shared on these platforms.
The proliferation of misinformation and disinformation on social media is a significant concern in today’s society. Anonymous commentators posing as experts can easily deceive and manipulate unsuspecting individuals. It is crucial for active social media members to exercise caution, think critically, and develop news literacy skills to navigate the complex landscape of information. By doing so, we can protect ourselves from falling prey to false narratives and contribute to a more informed and responsible online community. (AI)
From sketch to finish, see the current way Graeme completes an editorial cartoon using an iPencil, the Procreate app, and a couple of cheats on an iPad Pro. If you’re creative, give illustration a try: