Do we believe everything we see online?
By Catherine Jackson
Every single person who reads this blog has been lied to on the internet. This could mean something relatively harmless such as someone slightly altering a comedic story they’re telling, but it can also have much larger sociological consequences. The ease with which individuals and corporations can manipulate the content people are seeing in the media is too often undermined. Perhaps one of the most recognisable cases of this instance is the global shift in blame that took place in the late 1900s over pollution. Advertisements such as The Crying Indian suggested that “people started pollution and people can stop it”. By spreading a narrative that the everyday person is responsible for climate change levels of pollution, large corporations do not have to take accountability.
So why are large corporations happy to lie to us? The Companies Act 2006 (legislation.gov.uk) states that “a director of a company must act in the way he considers, in good faith, would most likely promote the success of the company for the benefit of its members as a whole”. In other words, the main priority of any corporation is to maximise profits for its stakeholders, this is done primarily through attracting and expanding their user base. Why is this an issue regarding the spread of information? When a corporation such as ByteDance is trying to keep as many active users as possible on their apps such as TikTok, they tend to deregulate its content. This is possible because the rapid spread of globalisation has significantly reduced the influence that nation states have over corporations – their incredible global influence means they can essentially control laws and regulations surrounding their activity.
A large factor in the issue of lack of regulation is the discourse surrounding Facebook. The corporation is increasingly coming under fire for failure to stop hate-speech and misinformation being posted on the website in the name of free speech. However this is hard to trust given that Facebook stands to gain more from allowing these people to continue to use the server.
In a 2008 research paper, Johnson and Kaye detail in ‘Can you Teach a New Blog Old Tricks (ufl.edu)’ how selective exposure could lead to individuals developing more polarised and fragmented views. This is exemplified perfectly through the app TikTok. TikTok is renowned amongst its young users for its algorithm, a system that shows and recommends videos to users based on their watching habits, this creates a niche consumption point for each person. As anybody with the app downloaded will be able to tell you, being shown new and interesting content every minute is incredibly addicting. As a result of this algorithm, it is easy for any user to be taken down a pipeline. A growing concern is that not enough is being done to combat this spread of false information because its continuation actively generates more wealth for the app.
So why are people still so willing to believe whatever they see or read on the internet?
Amongst the population of internet users, there appears to be a blind trust in the media that is consumed, people will click on the first google link that appears after a search and take what they see at face value or believe random health theories posted to Facebook. To a certain extent, this seems like the natural result of a generation raised in a world where the internet has always existed. Google has provided an infinite source of information for the entirety of most young people’s conscious existence and we therefore instinctually have confidence in it. In addition to this, the blending of traditional sources of news and modern media outlets has caused the blurring of the line between information and entertainment, what once was only provided by journalism and reliable sources can now be uploaded by almost anyone. Eventually this means that people will take to social media not necessarily looking for any particular material and be given information that they could assume to be true. Whilst teachings on how to check sources are generally being given to people at College and University level, people as young as 13 are permitted to be on apps such as TikTok and Instagram – and even then, almost anyone you ask will tell you that they were lying about their age before 13 in order to gain access to these forms of media.
In an age where media is the main source of politics and global issues for many, it has never been more important for people to fact check and critically consume the information they consume.