Op-Ed: Combating the Spread of Fake News on Twitter

Sharing of fake news on social media is a big global concern. It poses a threat to the fabric of our society and democracy. It can divide us and fuel divisions just like it happened during Congress’ confirmation of president –elect Joe Biden’s election win. The absence of a common narrative provides a ground for divisions

Twitter has become under increased scrutiny for its handling of fake news and hateful speech in its platform. There are two approaches to consider social media platforms like twitter: On one hand, people see Twitter as a technology that allow individuals to share and publish content. On the other hand, they argue that Twitter platform has now evolved curator of content. I believe Twitter should own up responsibility over what is published and shared on its platform.

Twitter has had a significant impact on the ways people interact and connect with one another.

Opinions and stories can get exposure with a record speed, giving users around the world access to almost real-time conversation concerning important and unimportant matters. Regrettably, there is a dark side to twitter and other social media platforms: fake news. Fake news can influence people, manipulating them for economic or political reasons. In 2020, several myths started making headlines about the alleged treatment of coronavirus. Several false claims were shared as facts, including the notion that drinking sanitizers, easting more coconut oil or red eat could cure the coronavirus. People retweeted and shared the misinformation and many uninformed people bought the idea.

Fake news is a modern term for misinformation. Misinformation refers to inaccurate or false information that is disseminated with the aim to deceive or mislead those who read it. Opinions and information that one disagrees with cannot necessarily amount to misinformation. The culture of calling fact-based reporting fake news simply because it does not align with one’s political position could indisputably be called misinformation itself and amounts to a dishonesty.

Fake news on tweeter has proven challenging to prevent. Twitter keeps on emphasizing on forgoing strict moderation for organic discussion but this has not resulted in balanced representation of the truth, especially when politics is involved. Twitter officials have promised time without number to take action against bots yet evidence reveals that they are unable to match up with the congestion of junk accounts.

Combating misinformation with factual information can be the best alternative. This involves providing an alternative information beside the fake information content so that users are exposed to the accurate information. YouTube have implemented this approach in which users are encouraged to lick on links with vetted information which would discredit the myths made in the fake content. One may suggest that the best way to fight fake news is to just do nothing. Do not retweet, write comment or provide alternative correct information. But if we do not counter fake news with the correct information, chances are that someone else will retweet and share the fake news thereby helping spread it. Therefore, the alternative is providing alternative information alongside the misinformation so that users are exposed to the truth.

It is only in this 21st century that human beings have developed a worldwide accessible platform to immediately convey false information, propagated by persons who may not be real. Real people are affected and hurt by their inability to discern real from fake and to distinguish between true narratives and fake ones as quickly as those propagating misinformation.

To overcome what divides us as a society, we must figure out a better way to authenticate the truth of information disseminated online. Twitter is a public forum which requires some degree of public oversight just like television and radio are. Social media platforms inform much of people’s daily lives that asking citizens to disconnect or reduce their use of social media is next to impossible. Twitter users are growingly using this platform as the primary information of receiving their trending news. A prime example is Twitter Moments where users see a succinct snapshot of daily news. The best we can do is to demand more of those operating these platforms to take measures to combat misinformation. Users also have a part to play in combating this.

Twitter relies on its community of users to report any harmful misinformation or hateful content by clicking or tapping on the chevron and selecting “Its harmful or abusive” Twitter does censor and ban without hesitation posts and contents considered hateful or promoting violence. It also terminates and closes accounts of users who engage in hateful speech. While twitter can successfully censor content online, I do not think it can control how views and ideas spread offline. Therefore, the best strategy is to present individuals with factual information alongside misinformation so that they become informed to willfully abandon any misguided beliefs.

To combat the spread of fake news on social platform, I prefer to expose users to factual information so that they become more informed to dispel misguided opinions and views. We can overcome fake news that divide us only if we are presented with alternative, accurate counter arguments.

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