Who’s Speaking, Please?

According to Patricia Roberts-Miller, “just about any political viewpoint can be put forward in a demagogic way–it isn’t restricted to one position on the political spectrum.” This, according to Roberts-Miller, blocks progress. A clear example of this is seen in the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump used social media to his advantage; rather than truly addressing critical issues that affected the American people, he accumulated votes by farting in a room. The people who left the room were people who were disturbed by his unsophisticated behavior and people who were on the receiving end of his bullying. His campaign closely resembled a racist, mysogynistic, and xenophobic collection of Facebook and Twitter posts. America’s decision to elect Donald Trump is directly related to the decision made by social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to ignore posts spouting hate speech because of the fear of taking on the first amendment.

I understand that it is easier to blame social media, but in reality, we cannot ignore the user’s role in the story’s trending. Facebook, like other social media sites, makes use of an algorithm to report which news articles, whether true or flat out false, are trending. And since it is Facebook who is using the algorithm, we want to blame them for the story’s popularity. But if we stop for a moment to think about it, Facebook is not sitting at our computers liking and sharing completely false stories. Even if we are not the ones clicking the story, our Facebook friends are helping to move fake news stories to the top of the pile. Facebook simply allows it to happen. Andrew Stafford of the The Sydney Morning Herald, that “There’s some evidence the astroturfers, in particular, are on the march. British writer George Monbiot recently told of being contacted by a whistleblower that worked as part of a PR team paid to infiltrate comment threads and forums, doing the bidding of their corporate clients. The whistleblower worked under 70 different usernames.” If all it takes is to flood the system with a particular kind of response, then how will any company or consumer get a true picture of what the public likes (pun intended). According to the Wall Street Journal, Facebook dominated the election because a remarkable number of users do not actively access real news. Instead, they get their daily dose of gossip disguised as news via their Facebook news feed. But there is enough blame to go around; Google is being blamed for part of this debacle.

According to the Wall Street Journal, false news stories generated and shared via Facebook and the 2016 election was affected by Google searches which provided false and misleading stories as the top results. Better late than never, right? Because someone or a few someones flooded Google with propaganda meant to sway the election in their favor. This is not unusual. Unfortunately, this propaganda, along with a barrage of hate speech, is protected by our constitutional right to speak freely. This double-edged sword is the root of the issue of internet anonymity.

Who knows where people truly stand on any issue? The reality is that many people avoid invoking their freedom of speech because they  are afraid of a backlash. Unfortunately, there are people who do not understand that two people do not have to agree on everything to be friends. On the other hand, there appears to be far more people who could care less about a backlash and even less about fact. Some of the people in this group quickly share stores that have no factual evidence to support it. Stafford writes in his article, “The sad truth is that controversy outrates reason every time.” So it it’s not Facebook who pushes the false stories to the top of our feeds, it’s the people sharing the garbage on their timeslines, liking the posts, and even commenting on it. Facebook, like Google and other media sites, use an algorithm to determine what’s trending.

Thankfully, some of the social media companies are beginning to take this control back. Despite Facebook’s claim that they “want people to feel safe when using Facebook,” the company found no wrong doing on the part of the user who posted memes about Michelle Obama being a monkey after the meme was reported. Racists, sexists, and xenophoics happily shared numerous tweets bashing and disrespecting innocent people. The public has been speaking out against the hate and it seems that social media and news outlets are listening. According to USAToday.com, for example, Twitter has begun to “suspend alt-right accounts” in response to their hate speech. Google is reconsidering how ads appear on their sites and the media is pushing hard to combat false news. There is hope. #SocialJusticeChallenge #DoSomething

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