Fake news, misinformation, echo chambers—recently, these words have been popping up in our news articles. But what do they mean for us, as social media users? Many of us use social media to engage and interact with organisations and individuals online, and understanding the risks of this engagement are key to ensuring our online communities are safe and secure.
Social media is a tool which many of us use to understand and interact with the world around us. Almost 72% of Americans use some form of social media, and research has shown that what we see on social media can affect our thoughts, actions and opinions (Pew Research Centre, 2019). The role that social media plays in shaping our world view is not fully understood, but its effects have been evident in areas from politics to public health.
In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 6% of all news consumed on Twitter by registered voters was fake news (Grinberg et al., 2019). This content is shared by a small proportion of accounts, but has been shown to disproportionately spread across online networks (Vosoughi et al., 2018).
In their work, Vosoughi et al identified that while true news stories elicited emotions like anticipation, sadness, joy and trust, fake news stories caused readers to feel fear, disgust and surprise. Checking the validity of news we see online is possible, but it requires the reader to take several more steps, undertaking further research on the topic to find consensus from reputable sources – a process not encouraged by the short snippets of information we have come to see on social media.
The prominence of these issues surrounding the 2016 US presidential election, and more recently, misleading health information about COVID-19 has brought mainstream attention onto this issue. Many of us are familiar with the term ‘fake news’, but how many of us notice this malicious influence in our timelines?
As a researcher, this topic presents a very complex problem. Alongside large volumes of data and complex social structures, how can we understand and model the processes behind malicious activity in our online social networks?
We use social media to engage and interact with organisations and individuals online, and understanding the risks of this engagement are key to ensuring online discussions bring us closer together, rather than further apart.
Grinberg, N, Joseph, K, Friedland, L, Swire-Thompson, B and Lazer, D, 2019, `Fake news on Twitter during the 2016 US presidential election’, Science, 363(6425), pp.374-378.
Vosoughi, S, Roy, D and Aral, S, 2018, `The spread of true and false news online’, Science, 359(6380), pp.1146-1151.
Pew Research Centre, 2019, `Demographics of Social Media Users and Adoption in the United States’, available at https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/social-media/ (Accessed: 26 February 2021).
The University of Adelaide