There’s two things basically anyone can have today; an opinion and a social media account. On their own, they’re inert, but combine these two epoxies and you have a potentially harmful araldite. That’s not to say that all social media users are exploiting their digital soapbox, but as the saying goes, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
People embellish all the time and usually it’s harmless. The danger comes, however, when people pass off their opinion as fact, thus igniting the fuse on the misinformation bomb.
The day to day examples you see on your own social media feed are probably nothing more than a blur as you scroll by them, but sometimes even the smallest ideas can incubate into large influential movements, and not always for the best.
An example of this can stem from something as simple as an emotion, and one of the most powerful emotional catalysts is hate. “What! Hate on the internet?” you exclaim as you sit up abruptly, causing the potato chip crumbs to jettison from the creases in your shirt. Yes, the internet can be a petri dish for anonymous vitriol, but baseless cruelty is one thing.
When you give your hatred an agenda, that’s when you spawn a movement, but hate is a strong emotion that is usually bred from fear. Fear, particularly of the unknown, can make people say and do some strange things.
Exhibit A: The Reclaim Australia Movement. Reclaim Australia is a prime example of misinformation and opinion trumping fact. And in fairness, I can see how it’s possible that such a movement would have begun from good intentions.
A group of like minded people got together and didn’t like what they saw happening in “their” country and felt threatened. Their way of life was being compromised and they decided to take action against those they viewed as the perpetrators.
Social media provided a wide reaching platform for the rhetoric. The appeal of groups like Reclaim Australia is in the emotion their message carries, not the logic, and this is why their opinion overwhelmingly thrives over fact.
Exhibit B: The Anti-Vaxxers Movement. Once upon a time, a British doctor by the name of Andrew Wakefield claimed to have found a link between the M.M.R. vaccine (measles, mumps, rubella) and autism. Several additional studies later showed that the claims didn’t hold any water, resulting in a retraction from the journal that originally published Dr Wakefield’s paper. A disgraced Wakefield then lost his medical license.
But despite being discredited, the misinformation was perpetuated worldwide. I’m sure many of us can remember a period of time in which you couldn’t scroll through your Facebook feed without coming across an article or picture about the dangers and government cover-ups associated with vaccinating your children, yet we can trace it all back to misinformation that was sparked by the opinion of a discredited doctor.
The dawn of social media gave way to a deluge of misinformation. One of the reasons we see the truth being neglected so much is because an opinion is so easy to have and carries almost no responsibility. Opinions aren’t a new concept, but platforms like social media are amplifiers for them.
It’s difficult to remain absolutely objective about everything, but it’s good practice to try and gather the facts first. In the words of Mark Twain, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”