The internet is a tool that has democratized content publishing. It has made information free and enabled anyone to publish whatever they want, share their beliefs and gain a following. This is amazing if you use it for good.
Facebook has lowered the bar to share ideas as low as it can get and now it is failing its users, exploiting them and systematically misinforming, manipulating and misleading them.
It is a megaphone and an amplifier of extreme views, easily disproven conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, superstition, magic cures, disinformation, controversy and hyper-effective propaganda.
Real-life activities based on ignorance are growing. There’s the anti-vaccination movement, there’s the flat earth ideology, there are populist politicians attacking science and there are people setting 5G (and 3G and 4G) towers on fire too.
There’s a confident or charismatic psychic or guru on Facebook ready with advice on any matter that you can imagine and Facebook is actively helping them spread the word and attract a large following.
Obviously, not all of these ridiculous theories originated on Facebook but Facebook is a carrier and plays a vital role in the unending supply and viral spread of them.
The consequence is that Facebook is undermining our democracy and it poses a threat to our society. All this because it is designed to drive “engagement” and shallow content is a contagious disease that is profitable for the business.
More than 3 billion people logged onto a Facebook service in the past month. That’s roughly two-thirds of the world’s total internet users. The Coronavirus lockdown has been good for business when looking at how many people use their products and how much time people spend on the platform each and every day.
Masters of puppets
A lot of disinformation Facebook pages and websites exist solely to generate money from banner advertising. These pages target an audience of people who are more receptive to the message. People who are less inclined to look deeper into the claims.
Older people are less likely to be tech-savvy, less likely to use ad-blockers, less likely to be able to understand the difference between legitimate news and lies, and they’re more likely to spend longer time on Facebook and share more information on Facebook.
People that simply accept what the seemingly “authoritative” sources from Facebook tell them to believe. These people become an unknowing tool of these pages and help them spread the message even further.
Facebook has degraded media. Fringe views and beliefs that had always been bubbling under the surface are now exposed to view and given primetime on the Facebook news feeds. Every piece of content no matter what it is about or who posts it looks and feels the same. All the ideas are easily and widely accessible.
And older people in general struggle understanding the difference, don’t have the ability to discern the truth and are more gullible. They jump to conclusions and seem to believe what they hear especially from those who tell them what they want to hear.
People are not to blame really. It’s not their fault. Back in the day, they got their news from the radio or the TV. Those used to have editors and gatekeepers. Only those with a lot of money could start a TV station or a newspaper.
Only professionals could get to broadcast and publish their content to a wide audience. Journalists and writers had a more calm perspective on the news of the world. Basically, the authorities told people what they needed to know and the distinction between truth and lies was made for them.
Now anyone with a Facebook page can pretend to be an authority and a part of a large movement ready to gain a following and recruit people to harmful, fringe ideologies and theories. Facts to them are irrelevant. Experts are not to be trusted. Science gets filtered out and pseudoscience, disinformation and confusion get through.
Don’t believe everything you read on the internet
So what’s there to do? Facebook has created a sticky product that provides a great way to stay connected with family and friends. People love to communicate so they join platforms that their friends are on. Now some of our loved ones refuse to switch to alternative solutions and you get Facebook with a monopoly on social networking.
We can start by talking about Facebook and the issues around Facebook with people we care about. We can educate them about the importance of critical thinking skills when reading or watching stuff from Facebook, YouTube and other platforms.
One of the most necessary skills on the internet is to be skeptical upfront about anything that you read and to question things. Speak to people in real life about these things, look for other sources. This is how they’ll be able to distinguish real from false information.
Reading something on Facebook or watching something on YouTube is not necessary a valid source of information. Not a source to be trusted. On the web, everyone is kind of forced to look out for themselves but we can change it and make a conscious effort to help look out for one another.
What else is there to do in the world without Facebook?
Pretty much anything else you can do with your free time is better at this stage. Make some phone calls. Write some emails. Use instant messaging. Listen to music. Watch movies. Read books. Paint. Write. Play. Cook. Do jigsaw puzzles. Learn something new. Take a walk in the park.