Where is the internet taking us?

I was very intrigued by the YouTube video posted by the Apsen Institute titled “Is the internet taking us where we want to go?”  The host discussed that last summer there were two big news stories; Ferguson and the ice bucket challenge.  It was noticed that the frequency of the stories varied dramatically depending on the website.  Twitter covered Ferguson heavily while you were much more likely to see an ice bucket challenge video on Facebook.

We all know the algorithms behind search engines and social media are different depending on the site you prefer.  The host posed an interesting question.  Can we use social media and its algorithms to sway users reactions and habits?

The host gave a good example showing how social media did make a difference in trackable situations.  In the last presidential election Facebook selected 60 million users which is just a portion of their total number of users and added election content to the top of the Facebook page.  They put a notice saying that it was election day and gave a link to find your local polling location.  It was determined that this created a measurable increase in polling turn out.

The big question that was posed was is it ethical for social media to use its algorithms and content to control peoples choices and access to information.  Would it be ethical to change the algorithms during the Ferguson riots to show more pictures of cats or any humorous content and reducing the amount of news stories and videos of burning buildings.

I don’t think enough social media users understand how the social media sites have the ability to control information.  While I do think there is the potential to really reduce violence in the case of the riots.  There are a significant number of social media users that use Facebook and its variety of reliable and not so reliable news sources as their only source for information.  It is a very common occurrence to see one of my friends on Facebook like a clearly fake news article.

The last significant issue with control of algorithms is control of information and censorship.  It is a very delicate and complicated issue.  While some censorship can be beneficial to a groups general wellbeing, it is not in everyones best interest to not hear both sides to every story.  It is scary that social media sites can make decisions to sway things like politics.  We need to remember that many social media sites are businesses.  While most users don’t have to pay for their services, many businesses do and this generates significant income for the company.  I am not implying that all social media sites would take money to sway voters etc but it is within the realm of possibility.

Posted on September 24, 2017, in Social Media. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I, too, have witnessed many times a Facebook friend like, and even share, a fake news article. The line between credible and reliabe is blurred with subjectivity and undocumented sources. There are so many shoddy news sources. Yahoo news drives me nuts with it’s sensationalism and poorly written articles.

    • Yes it’s become very difficult to find reliable sources of information. Some people just don’t care and unfortunately the others don’t know any better.

  2. “I don’t think enough social media users understand how the social media sites have the ability to control information”

    Yes, this!

    And as Lani notes above, it’s increasingly difficult to assess sources these days and that could be because of the speed with which we want information. Do all these “news” outlets assume we will fall for the click bait “headline” and not even read the entire “article”? Half the time I click on something, the article doesn’t really match the headline or isn’t even an article. One example from today is https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/09/26/twitter-explains-why-it-wont-take-down-trumps-north-korea-tweet/?utm_term=.d9f3b6d323d8 which doesn’t include all 6 of Twitter’s replies or the actual rules/policy.

    Getting back to social media sites and control, I’ve been frustrated lately by the lack of chronological order. Call me old fashioned and linear, but why can’t I see things in the order they’ve been posted rather than what the social media sites deem as “top stories.” I know I can manipulate my FB feed but why would Instagram follow suit? Is it the push to enable notifications so you don’t miss a post, which likely gives the app more info about you to build a profile. Sigh… I miss the early days of social media when I had more control!

    • I also feel the same about the top stories news feed! I have searched through settings and it appears no where can you set it to always show the newest posts first. It is something you always have to take the time to do and sometimes I don’t bother. I agree this is another way to manipulate content.

  3. “While some censorship can be beneficial to a groups general wellbeing, it is not in everyones best interest to not hear both sides to every story. ”

    This is very true, and if we did censor one side we would completely lose the advantage of having the internet as a source of our information. We no longer have to rely on one newspaper deciding what we see and what is neutral, we can seek out sides to every story even if it is politically incorrect.

    This made me think of how Facebook allows a person to write their own fate in terms of content. The more someone looks at a certain hyped up media outlet, the more they will see “related” content. What people choose to view may be a self fulfilling prophecy with this behaviour of content generation. So what can we do? It’s a grey area, and the only thing I can think of is to educate people in critical thinking.

  4. What may be a digression leads off this response..I wonder, because of,or maybe despite, the order of the reading prescribed, how many classmates focused on, or, gravitated “naturally” to the single video? My question is within the context of “Is the internet taking us where we want to go?” as perceptions and expectations within generations were among the topics explored.

    To be more clear, I wonder how many of the younger learners represented here responded more to the video because of its color, audio track, and “moving pictures”. I have noted at work, in my classroom, and in the world at large that younger people are significantly more engaged, more likely to participate, but NOT more likely to retain information, when multi-media presentations are used.

    This requires a disclaimer. I am a Boomer, born in the middle of this massive demographic bulge riding through history. I am completely at ease with articles (even those without graphics and images!) and had to consciously shift to proofreading and editing effectively online.

    While suspicious of the obsession with the word “disrupt”, social media is truly disruptive, as this post notes, when compared to the “traditional” media – local newspapers and radio stations.When in newspapers, I heard constantly about the power of the media and how the media controlled things. I don’t believe that was true. What the traditional media had the power to do was to set an agenda, to point out, “Here’s an issue and we need to pay attention to it”.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions.recently proclaimed a “crime wave” in this country, although empirically and experientially untrue. This reminded me that, as a “cops-and-courts” editor for a northern Wisconsin daily newspaper, I could create a “crime wave” simply by giving more “column inches” to criminal reports.on a daily basis. That is “bearskins and stone knives” (50,000 Trivia Points for anyone recognizing the quote) compared to today.

    As Zittrain also noted, “That’s so 1998.” It is perhaps inevitable given, not just the number of social media outlets but the relentless 24/7/365 drive to have the newest, shiniest, coolest of … whatever, that social media can truly dictate (word purposely chosen) our responses, our choices, and, most frighteningly, our votes and our dollars.

    The implications Facebook’s selling of ads to Russian fronts seeking to influence the American election is just a recent example.

    • Thanks for the comments David. It is possible it was because of age that I felt a stronger connection with this video instead of the other choices. I would hardly consider myself young anymore though. I turn 33 next month. But in the bigger picture yes I am probably younger than some in the class. I like your perspective. I think knowledge retention between media and traditional formats depends on the preferred learning style of the student. Maybe this is a good chance to poll students later in the semester and see which content stuck with them.

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