“But I read it on Facebook”

Are you a fool for Facebook? Do you get your facts, your news, your information off Facebook websites?

That’s what journalists who cover social media think — and it’s giving them fits about what this will mean for the upcoming presidential election.

I suppose it’s better that, pre-this election, we’re getting factual reports about the fake news/political propaganda posts Facebook has been allowing. Knowing what’s going on is an improvement over 2016, when the majority of us didn’t know what was going on until the Comet Pizza shoot-up and the “reason” for it.

Fake news and warped information spewed from Facebook are distressing to learn about for all of us who pay attention to science and facts — especially for medical professionals who want to care for their patients honorably without having to engage in arguments about some crap a patient saw on Facebook.

I feel for journalists who cover social media and understand why they’re getting so alarmed. Kevin Roose, for one, says this in his Times column, “What if Facebook Is the Real ‘Silent Majority’?: Right-wing influencers are dominating the political discussion on Facebook, raising questions about whether it will translate into electoral success in November.”

Listen, liberals. If you don’t think Donald Trump can get re-elected in November, you need to spend more time on Facebook.

Since the 2016 election, I’ve been obsessively tracking how partisan political content is performing on Facebook, the world’s largest and arguably most influential media platform.

But what sticks out, when you dig in to the data, is just how dominant the Facebook right truly is. Pro-Trump political influencers have spent years building a well-oiled media machine that swarms around every major news story, creating a torrent of viral commentary that reliably drowns out both the mainstream media and the liberal opposition.

The result is a kind of parallel media universe that left-of-center Facebook users may never encounter, but that has been stunningly effective in shaping its own version of reality.

Yeah, but, hey Kevin: we who are basic consumers of news live in the real universe, not the Facebook one. Not the QAnon one. And no matter how many hits these fake news sites get, the only significant numbers will be the hard numbers that emerge from November 3.

There are no valid numbers as to whether these fear-mongering websites influence people’s votes. I, for one, do not believe they influence anyone who knows the difference between fact and fake. You can’t be swept up in bizarre conspiracies unless you yearn for them.

I recall what I wrote about social media in How I Learned The Facts of Life. I picked up the below item in 2018, from 538.com, so these facts have been known for years.

…One study found that social media platforms are way more effective at driving traffic to purported “news” sites full of deliberately false information than driving people to sites that actually inform readers — 40 percent of visits to fake news sites came from social media, compared to 10 percent for the 690 top U.S. news sites. [From NPR]

But what does that mean in terms of influencing voters to believe in conspiracies?

You can’t be influenced if you don’t get driven to “news” sites; you can’t be influenced if you collect facts from credible news media, especially high-quality newspapers.

As Kara Swisher opined in “Silicon Valley Won’t Save Us From Trolls,” (December 20, 2018 New York Times, my bolding):

For now, it’s not clear what we can do, except take control of our own individual news consumption. Back in July, in fact, [Renée] DiResta, [a disinformation expert and director of research at New Knowledge], advised consumer restraint as the first line of defense, especially when encountering information that any passably intelligent person could guess might have been placed by a group seeking to manufacture discord.

Both Swisher and DiResta lay it out economically: get your news from demonstrably factual media. If you pick up a smidge of weird information, be one of those “passably intelligent” persons who knows it isn’t true.

Let’s sum up. Social media are fine for socializing with friends and family. Also watching adorable animal videos and being reminded to wish someone happy birthday.

That’s kind of it.

P.S. And as the sister, cousin, aunt and friend of physicians, I ask you not to irritate them by delivering medical “truths” you picked up on Facebook or anywhere else. They studied medicine for years and have enough agita over real stuff like COVID-19.


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