Trolls and Other Online Dangers: How Reliable is Shared Information on Social Media?

Trolls and Other Online Dangers: How Reliable is Shared Information on Social Media?

In the past years the growing number of social media users as well as the increased power of social network companies have fostered the development of national and international data protection and cybersecurity regulations. Not only do companies like Facebook collect a huge amount of personal information nowadays, but they also have a considerable influence over the flow of news content in general. In order to protect users from data abuse and manipulative presentation of news, solutions at government level are required.

Unfortunately, legal changes cannot keep pace with the fast development of social media platforms and that inevitably sets a risk for users. How do these friend-making online platforms turn into crime scenes? Let’s take a look.

Facebook: The Continuously Growing Networking Platform

Facebook started in 2006, when everyone who claimed to be over 13 years old could enter the networking platform founded back then by a group of students. Six years later the company made its Initial Public Offering with a valuation of unbelievable 104 billion USD. Since Facebook profits from companies’ on-screen advertising, it makes sense that the information users provide to the social network is easy bait for the market leader.

But it is not only personal information published that might bear risks for users, the content itself is now in the spotlight. Posting pictures of kids without their permission, not defacing strangers from your holiday’s snapshots or insulting others are just a few examples of traps to fall into.

A special focus is now put on inappropriate posts or comments – such as discriminating or extremely offensive ones. Until now it was very hard to identify some of the users who cleverly use nicknames to cover their real identity. With the new restrictions on the table, some countries try to fight the inviolability of these so-called trolls.

False Information Threatening the Online Space

Another thing that is even harder to punish or trace is sharing fake news. There is a strong connection between people’s belief in a message and/or source and their sharing behavior. While some might be triggered by a specific source, some might share content that represents their own opinion without further verifying the source itself.

As long as there are no obvious legal violations, people can share what they want. And that is social media’s weak spot: Nobody has control over the content that is posted, which allows an incredible amount of unclear information to be disseminated.

One of the biggest problems is that once false information has spread it is difficult to mitigate the damage: one can never be 100 percent sure if a retraction reaches exactly the same people who originally received the incorrect or misleading content on social media.

Furthermore, wrong information can do a lot of harm, not only to individuals. Especially renowned companies suffer considerable damage from the spread of untrue information as customers and followers tend to be quite unforgiving. Today’s news are water under the bridge soon? Might be true but the internet never forgets.

Media and Information Literacy Skills

These are just some examples of the threats that we, as individuals consuming their day-to-day information via social media, constantly face – however, these dangers are not exclusively limited to the virtual spaces. In any environment and scenario, media and information literacy skills are valuable countermeasures. Applied to the social media context, they help us to distinguish which information can be trusted and which cannot.

Using a diverse, plural range of news media to search information is recommended – including traditional media such us TV and radio channels. Traditional media organizations tend to do more research and, therefore, provide more reliable information. This is also reflected in the significantly higher level of trust that consumers have in traditional media. For these reasons and many more, TV and radio are not only good sources to get informed but also a great basis to monitor the global news media landscape.

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