Social media has facilitated a complete paradigm shift in the global population’s interconnectedness with each other, which has offered many benefits.
Unfortunately, it’s also brought about a lot of drawbacks. Social media is instrumental in the death of truth, which is bad news for everyone who values an authentic world full of honesty.
Here’s a look at the post-truth era and how social media helped birth it.
What Is Post-Truth?
Post-truth refers to a state where people have less public trust in what is objective truth; instead being influenced by emotional or personal beliefs or by misleading political claims. Cambridge Dictionary defines it as:
“Relating to a situation in which people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts.”
Without falling into philosophical debates, it is of course a problem if you are going through life believing lies—even if you’re unaware of it.
So, let’s look at how social media caused the death of truth.
1. It Broke Down Geographical Barriers
At first glance, social media breaking down geographical barriers seems like a good thing. You’re right in thinking that this is a benefit. But it has also ended up contributing to a decline in people’s sense of truth.
With geographical barriers erased, this has allowed for social feeds to be a melting pot of various different cultural, political, and religious ideologies all fighting against each other in a sea of noise. Propaganda from and about different cultures, coupled with influence campaigns from different countries, can quickly alter the user’s perception of truth.
2. It Became a Political Vehicle
If there’s one thing politicians know how to do, it’s spin. When politicians and their campaign managers jumped on social media, truth was further eroded. They furthered their campaign reach to try to pick up more voters.
This allowed them to frame the truth in a way that fits their agenda, meaning there was more room for people to be misinformed. It is one of the biggest ways social media is making society divided.
Of course, you and others can always reply to a politician’s social media post and dispute their claims. The problem is that replies don’t always come as quickly as an original post, and replies don’t have the backing of ad spend on boosting posts that politicians can afford in their original post.
In many cases, even if you and others dispute something a politician or their team have posted, the damage can already be done.
3. We’re Manipulated by Metrics
Numbers have an effect on how you perceive interactions. If you’re reading an argument between two people, Person A has 2000 likes on their comment but Person B has only 50, you’d likely sway towards Person A because they’ve had more “endorsement” by other users in their views.
If you’re a deep thinker and take your time, this would affect you less. But many users are often absent-mindedly scrolling, and so wouldn’t have the self-awareness at that time to look past the numbers and focus on the actual comments being made.
4. Emotionally Charged Posts Were Boosted
Just like in traditional media such as newspapers, emotionally charged posts get boosted on social media platforms. Usually negative emotions such as fear and anger.
For instance, it was found that Facebook prioritized posts that had emoji reactions, including the angry reaction, far more than traditional likes, The Washington Post reports.
Going further, a study published in Arthroscopy, Sports Medicine, and Rehabilitation found that social media engagement increased on posts that elicit emotion.
It’s important to remember when scrolling that it’s in your nature to be susceptible to emotional content, specifically ones that cause negative emotions. En masse, it’s easy to see how this effect can lead to posts that are less truth-based and more emotional performing better.
5. Data Harvesting Made Us Easy Targets
You’ll likely have heard of the Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Cambridge Analytica ran a personality quiz on Facebook, using that to harvest data of up to 87 million users without their consent. That data was then analyzed and used to target voters for political campaigns.
Who knows how much this happens? The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal was just the one that got caught, it’s reasonable to believe there are many more instances of this happening across different platforms. There is also still the question of whether Facebook is doing enough to tackle misinformation. Considering its track record, it seems unlikely.
Data mining, which is the process of trawling through user-generated content around the web and gaining information to fit a company’s agenda, is used by many companies. How often are you being subject to quizzes, articles, and polls as a pretense to gaining data about your comments and reactions by some hidden research company?
6. Bots Influenced Public Opinion
Bots have been on social media for a long time and the problem is only getting worse. People can set up bots to auto-schedule tweets or engage with people based on trigger words, and there is also evidence of these being used to try and sway public opinion across multiple social platforms. There was a time it was rife on Twitter, so it’s always good to keep in mind ways you can counter misinformation on Twitter.
While various social media platforms have cracked down on this, bots are only becoming more sophisticated and disguised as time goes on.
7. Algorithms Created Echo Chambers
You may have heard of echo chambers, which is an environment where users are exposed to the same beliefs or opinions without many (if any) opposing views encountered. Algorithms, by nature, encourage echo chambers across the most popular social media platforms. Algorithms serve more content similar to what you already engage with, tending to avoid serving you posts that haven’t performed well for you in the past, known as a “filter bubble”.
Algorithms also go a step further by recommending content from people and publications you’re more likely to support, based on the data you’ve already provided to the platform through your usage. Adding confirmation bias into the mix, and you can see how socials encourage echo chambers by their very nature.
Truth Is Dead But Social Media Still Has Some Benefits
It’s clear that we live in a society where truth is not valued to the same degree as it used to be. The ramifications of this will become clearer as time goes on. Until then, don’t forget to unplug from social platforms every now and again and try to get regular real-life human contact.
If things seem bleak, that’s when you want to stick to the people you care about the most. Now more than ever it is important to make the most out of socials and make them work for you rather than against you. While socials may have brought about the death of truth, there are still a lot of ways they can be a positive addition to your life.