Millions of Americans scrolled, clicked, read and continually fed into the political duel between the 2016 presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. However, many Democrats were left shocked upon realizing their Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had lost to current President Donald Trump.
How could so many Americans not see this coming and could the social media they use to consume their news have played a role? Could “fake news” and “filter bubbles” actually contribute to political participation and elections? Millions of Americans use social media to consume news every day, but how much is known about its inner workings?
A recent study conducted by Pew Research Center revealed that there has been a “modest” increase in the number of U.S. adults receiving their news via social media platforms. With Facebook being the number one source, 67 percent of U.S. adults now use social media to receive at least some portion of their news. Americans that are less educated, older and non-white were among the biggest contributors to the increase.
While social media allows users to instantaneously be up to date on the happenings in the world, individuals should take into consideration the implications of obtaining news via social media.
Fake news, filter bubbles and clickbait have all played key roles in the evolution of accessing news. While “fake news” filters into individual’s social media, “filter bubbles” hope to further a social division among parties. All while clickbait waits patiently to increase a company’s profits one click at a time.
In a 1992 book, titled “Dirty Politics: Deception, Distraction and Democracy,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson warns readers about consuming pieces of information without knowing their sources. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard the phrase “fake news” at least once or twice. As President Donald Trump continues to use the phrase, question remains as to if there is any grain of truth within it.
Although President Trump incessantly states “fake news” as means to defend his own actions, it is true that gathering information from social media can mean gathering information from questionable sources. Since there is a degree of truth to the matter, how much responsibility do social media outlets hold in regards to sharing false or misleading information?
In an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, he states that Facebook is a tech company, rather than a media company. The distinction between tech and media companies is significant for a number of reasons, but mostly in regarding a 1996 act which gave tech companies less responsibility in the their content.
The 1996 Communications Decency Act’s Section 230 states that, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” Therefore, tech companies, such as Facebook, are held less responsible than media companies for publishing information from questionable sources, as well generating bias based content through a filter bubble.
The filter bubble is a relatively new concept that personalizes web searches by using an algorithm based on an individual’s online behavior to guess what they would be interested in. This algorithm feeds into a sort of one-sided propaganda by covering an individual’s social media into customized content. Democrats could not see it coming when President Donald Trump was elected because their social media filled with left-biased content causing their attention to be diverted to one side.
Social media outlets have been making investments to further develop their news usability to attract more viewers to their sites. Although this may bring in more profit for big tech companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, it continues to threaten traditional media outlets, as well as generate biased and questionable content.
These technology giants are profiting from a significant amount of digital advertisements. In fact, 65 percent of all ads are monopolized by just five tech companies. By marketing their articles for clicks, these companies receive massive amounts of revenue.
Exactly how much social media will continue to influence politics and shape individual’s opinions will only be known with time.
Emma DeGrandi is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.