Six guideposts to a better world online. This week’s guidepost: #knowyourresponsibility
Let’s start with a story:
“It works like this. You buy a starter sales set from me for $495. Then you have a choice. You can sell what you have and make your own $495 or, if you can find other people to sell for you, the sky is the limit. Personally, I’ve got a plan to retire early…”
The person who was recruiting me was a friend and I trusted him. He knew I needed money and genuinely offered this as a simple solution.
I wasn’t interested — but a lot of people were. In the end, the little money my friend earned didn’t make up for the time he put in. Several of those he did recruit ended up with a starter set they couldn’t sell and a product that wasn’t nearly as durable as the marketing materials said it was. My friend was conned — the worst part was that he had a part in conning others out of their money, too.
Well-meaning people who pass along flawed information are prevalent online.
A recent Pew study found that almost 20 percent of Americans get their political news from social media. For those under 30, this number jumps to almost 50 percent. This same study showed that those who use social media as their news source tend to be less informed about current events than the general public.
Some of that news is an attempt to con us. It’s filled with false or misleading information that’s meant to manipulate us into giving up our money, our vote, or our integrity. In fact, a recent study published in Science Magazine suggested that false news stories spread to more people than true ones. Yep. Those who intentionally circulate a false narrative are good at it. They spin a story that is close enough to a true one or close enough to our opinion that the mental filters that would normally help us determine true from false fail us. Sometimes, these filters fail us so much that we end up passing on the lies and inadvertently strengthen the con.
False and misleading or upsetting content is often more popular than content that is true or helpful, leading to perverse incentives to the platforms that make money online.
It’s up to us to disrupt these social media con jobs whenever we can. Make sure a story or article is true and from a reputable source before you share it (the resources in our #knowyourfacts post can help). If you know something you see someone else sharing is false, help them out and let them know. If you find out that you accidentally shared false information, correct it, share the information you’ve learned, and delete it as soon as possible.
Social media is a powerful tool. It’s up to us to use it responsibly.
Share your thoughts using the hashtag #knowpeaceonline and to sign up to learn more visit our campaign website at knowpeace.online.
Rev. Mike Denton serves as the conference minister for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ and is a member of the board of the UCC’s media justice ministry, OC Inc.