Trolls and other mythical online creatures: How reliable is shared information?

Austria is currently discussing a new law to improve cyber security. Facebook users might have to enter their mobile phone number when opening a social media account since every phone number is linked to personal data. This is supposed to fight inappropriate posts, comments or other forms of social media criminality. And if it occurs, it should be easy to figure out the person behind this online misbehaviour. But isn‘t that a very personal information to disclose? And how come that all these bubbly, happy friend-making online platforms turn into crimescenes? Let‘s take a look.

Facebook started in 2006 when everyone who claimed to be 13 years or older could be part of the innovative platform founded by a group of students. Six years later the company made it‘s IPO with a valuation of unbelievable 104 billion USD. Since the platform makes most money from offering companies to advertise onscreen, it makes perfect sense that every information users put into the platform is easy bait for the market leader. But it‘s not only personal information published that might bear risks for subscribers, 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 – such as discriminating or extremely offensive – posts or comments. 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.

Another thing that is even harder to punish or trace is sharing fake news. People really seem to believe what they share and the original source is often hard to determine. And that‘s social media‘s weak spot. No one has control over the content that is being postet everyday and that makes an incredible amount of unclear information. If any famous and trusted newspaper account shared information about the alleged death of a famous person, these news would be shared and spread thousands of times in less than a minute – without a proof that this is true. And there‘s no guarantee that the same people who were reached by the fake news will be reached by the information that it was actually fake.

As you see, wrong information can do a lot of harm, not only for private people. Especially renowned companies suffer considerable damage from sharing 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.

This and more shows how important it is to leave our own bubble now and then and consume not only social media. TV and radio news are much better researched and therefore way more reliable, which makes these sources the perfect base for monitoring.