How Our Browsing Habits Are Confusing Fact With Fiction

It is an undeniable fact that social media is a major driving factor in the modern way of life, but are our online habits affecting the way we view our world as whole?

A recent study by Pew Research Centre suggests that 62% of American adults get news via social media, the site most commonly used for this purpose being Facebook. Furthermore, those who actively seek out news online tend to use platforms such as Reddit, twitter and LinkedIn; Facebook users were more likely to happen across their news by chance.

But what does this really mean? What impact do our online habits have on the real world, and how we perceive it?

Let’s take a look back on 2016, a year of calamity and chaos for many. Social media has undoubtedly helped shape the year, with some of the most prominent political campaigns relying on online networks. Herein lies the problem; the user-reliant nature of social media.

Anyone can post on social media, whether they have knowledge of the subject at hand, are misguided and uninformed, or are simply posting a hoax. As such ‘fake news’ is becoming more and more prevalent online and is warping our perspective of reality.

From the small things such as Harambe’s alleged 11,000 votes in the US presidential election to the downright ridiculous, like stories of Saturn suddenly changing colour; the likelihood is that we have all come across such a falsehood, and dismissed it as such. Not all tales are quite so innocent, though.

With politicians being falsely accused of accidentally paying Islamic State 400 million US dollars, with tales of significant cultural figures such as the pope endorsing political candidates, and with social media being used to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of voters, we need to start taking this seriously.

In response to this social crisis, Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and Chief Executive of Facebook released a statement in November of last year, calming that only 1% of news found on the site is fake, and that Facebook having any influence affecting the outcome of the presidential election was a ‘pretty crazy idea’.

Despite these positive affirmations on Zuckerberg’s behalf, many dispute this claim. Facebook employees have been noted to be concerned about the spread of racist and alt-right messages, and how they may be creating an online filter bubble, encouraging these users to interact with others who match their extreme views.

It is unclear what, if any, action is going to be taken by social networking sites to prevent this in the future, however, for now all we can do is keep a critical eye open. Flag any hoaxes you come across, and above all, stay skeptical.