This may not be the first time you hear about the way social media is sometimes used by hackers and governments to attack and manipulate you – but the impact goes deeper than expected.
Jeanna Matthews, who is a professor of computer science and researches social media and security, has talked about this issue in debt for Science Alert. The posts you usually see on your social media feed are the result of an algorithm curating what you get to see based on how many people react and how they react to those posts. It may not come as a surprise that negative content gets to awaken more reactions than any other type of content, which makes it go viral quicker.
Who exactly is behind this massive reacting? Most times, an army of bots. Bots are fake accounts made and controlled by hackers. If you want to get an idea about how widely spread these fake accounts are, a recent study shows that more than half of the Twitter accounts talking about COVID-19 belong to bots.
Another threat comes in the forms of trolls – these are real people (although sometimes they use bots to spread their message) whose purpose is to create division and a sense that the truth no longer exists or it can no longer be trusted.
How bots and trolls on social media manipulate your belief system – and what you can do to stop them
Matthews has underlined how easily people’s opinions can be manipulated via bots and trolls: “Even as a social media researcher, I underestimate the degree to which my opinion is shaped by these attacks. I think I am smart enough to read what I want, discard the rest and step away unscathed. Still, when I see a post that has millions of likes, part of me thinks it must reflect public opinion. The social media feeds I see are affected by it and, what’s more, I am affected by the opinions of my real friends, who are also influenced.”
There are a few steps you can take to not let yourself be influenced by the fake accounts which spread misinformation. One thing you can do is to limit your social media usage – try to use it more for catching up with friends and family and less for getting the latest news. Another thing you can do is to put a little pressure on social media platforms, by directly reporting accounts and posts that do not seem trustworthy. Matthews’ final advice is to use social media sparingly: “Listen to real people, real stories and real opinions, and build from there.”.
Photo – Pixabay