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Social Media Disinformation: An Increasingly Concerning Crisis

Photo by Camilo Jimenez on Unsplash

In 2017, Peter McIndoe launched an experiment on social media platforms and announced that birds weren’t real. This sounds ridiculous, something nobody would take seriously- yet, in less than a year, McIndoe had hundreds of followers chanting that birds were surveillance drones sent by the government to spy on citizens.

If it wasn’t obvious enough by the previous example, disinformation has become a huge problem online. In a survey of 1,000 people, around 37% said that they had never spread false information online, and 17% said they never shared anything, but more than 38% confessed that they had accidentally spread false information online. That last number is becoming progressively bigger, but the awareness raised is extremely low- too low. To make matters even worse, according to a 2018 study by Deb Roy, Soroush Vosoughi, and MIT professor Sinan Aral, false information is 70% more likely to be retweeted or shared than the truth. And with TikTok and other popular social media apps making it easy to post whatever you want, whenever you want in just a few clicks, kids get exposed to disinformation every day. Additionally, according to statistics from the National Literacy Trust Organization, more than half of 12 to 15-year-olds go to social media as their source of news.

Disinformation doesn’t only affect your beliefs about birds or whatnot- it also affects your health and your safety. During the covid pandemic, officials saw a spike in disinformation about masks and vaccines. As the U.S. nears one million deaths from Covid-19, analysis finds that almost a third of those deaths could have been prevented if the victims had been vaccinated. The fact that thousands of people would be alive today if this increasingly concerning crisis had been handled better is a harsh reality of our world. 

The dangers of these- often deliberate- misconceptions spreading so rapidly and the severe results are why social media must be regulated, and why there should be a better, quicker response to removing disinformation. Many people argue that managing social media denies a right to free speech, but does it suppress freedom if it can save countless lives? Regulating social media merely stops dangerous fake news and disinformation from spreading and makes the online world a safer, more reliable community. 

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