Connecting billions of people around the world, social media drives more traffic and attention to current events than any news outlet on earth, which is a positive for any client’s social media strategy. But as we all witnessed last week (and frankly, the years leading up to the election), our connected technological thread quickly became a hotbed of misinformation, rumors and cheap shots. As fake stories and memes crowed our Facebook feeds, we were distracted from the truth and pushed further apart in all directions.
Here’s where social media got us wrong in this year’s election and what we can learn from our (yes, all of us should be held responsible) mistakes:
- Facebook turned into an echo chamber with half-truths spreading like viruses
Little did we realize at the time, but we were all diving into our own echo chambers this election season, constructing our personalized version of the truth because of filter bubbles – a destructive enclosure in which you only see material you agree with on social platforms.
Since people tend to click links that align with their existing opinions, the public has lost some ability to call out misinformation. For instance, a satirical website reported that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump for President earlier this summer, which was shared more than 868,000 times on Facebook.
With dozens of political hoaxes spreading like wildfire, social media has inadvertently created a space for lies to travel really, really well.
Tip for the future: Check for context – images, videos and text snippets will be chopped, twisted and stuffed into a new headline to fit an inflammatory new narrative (aka: FACT CHECK!)
- Fake news clouded our judgement (and newsfeeds)
For anyone who spent time on their relatives’ social pages, Facebook became a repository of misinformation. While some of it is driven by ideology, much of what we seen is driven by the economic incentive algorithm Facebook has created.
Several New York Times readers reported that a site called the Conservative Daily Post had published a number of false stores, including a report that President Obama and Hillary Clinton promised amnesty to undocumented immigrants who vote for Hillary – neither had made this promise.
It’s troubling that many consumers on Facebook aren’t questioning the legitimacy or political bent of the stories they read and share. Even though Facebook previously employed Trending editors to verify trending articles, they were quickly slapped with pushback from constituents and fired its human editors. Since then, the company repeatedly trended fake news, algorithmically pushing fake news stories out to millions.
So when the fake, distorted articles align with a Facebook user’s preconceived notions or sense of identity, the articles become viral, misleading the public and infuriating many by made-up things they read online.
Tip for the future: Check the account history of the source and do a reverse-image search to see if/where a photo has been used elsewhere.
- The actual election narrative was surpassed by clickbait
When a social feed curates news that I enjoy seeing, why would I look elsewhere? This is typically what the general public subconsciously (or consciously) thinks when scrolling through their social feeds. And with fake news stories circulating, good journalism was pushed out by biased headlines, fragmented glimpses of political nonsense and deceptive memes.
As we witnessed during the primaries, many news outlets never took Trump seriously as a viable candidate because his entire campaign was covered as a circus act, a reality show stunt and written for clickbait headlines. Because of that, many reporters missed the story – that huge crowds (ignored by pollsters and the media) at his rallies meant his support was larger than pollsters were predicting.
Not to mention, Americans’ trust in mass media has sunk to new lows, leading many to ignore the media to inform their political decisions from the onset.
Tip for the future: Don’t let one website be your only source of information. As a Los Angeles publicist, I’m begging you to please seek out differing viewpoints and make an opinion for yourself – not your neighbor, long-lost cousin or even your best friend.