Do social media networks make us dumber? Do they make us smarter? Are they prisms that focus and magnify our worst attributes, turning us into a digital mob that launches global witch hunts in a single click? Do they have the ability to bring out the very best of us, helping the innate trust towards others that we have within us, emerge?
Evidence is emerging for all of these which suggests that when it comes to social media all of the above are actually at play depending on place, time, context and social network.
Like a reflection of the real world the social network environment we are in can predispose us to specific actions because of the threshold barriers that are placed to other actions. Design and functionality then become a key element towards helping the right kind of culture to emerge and once that happens the social network is marked by its dynamic which is used to attract further people to it.
No one, for instance, goes on Twitter to “Connect with Family and Friends”, Facebook is clearly the place for that and even if the functionality of Twitter was augmented to reflect that of Facebook people would still not use it that way because its existing culture would prevail and extended functionality would be used for the purpose of sharing news and information.
A new study that used the wacky reaction to Jade Helm 15 as a starting off point, looked at the way misinformation spreads online across social networks which are, correctly, characterized as “massive sociotechnical systems”. Key to this is the reason information is accessed, by people, in the first instance and then why it spreads through their actions.
Trust and Truth
The internet has made information to want to be free as Stewart Brand famously said but it has not done much by way of making it be right. Factual content happily coexists, at the moment, with wacky conspiracy theories and general, self-perpetuating untruths.
Yet in a world run on data the ability to filter fact from fiction quickly, can have tremendous effects on the decisions we make, the actions we take and, eventually, the world we end up enjoying.
Twitter has partnered up with the UK’s Sheffield University on a project designed to help filter fact from fiction, in real-time in social media named after the Greek Goddess for fame and renown (or reputation) called Pheme.
Facebook which has become notorious for studies that are governed by either bad science or bad ethics (or both) has chosen, in this case, to adopt a “community driven” approach where community members handle information, well – you know: responsibly.
Google, like Twitter believes in the power of intelligent algorithms that use a trustscore on individual online profiles that is based upon a host of determining factors centered around their online and offline activity. This is something I discussed in detail in Google Semantic Search as it impacts on the search rankings of websites whose content is shared and contributes to the creation of entities that form trusted sources of online activity.
Trust is key to the building of any meaningful relationship and in my most recent book I discussed how the expectation of trust is key to establishing any kind of connection which then leads to a relational exchange like the consumption of a piece of information, the purchase of an item or the development of a fan base.
When information cannot be independently verified its presence creates a low-trust environment which leads to the formation of tightly-knit enclaves of ‘trusted’ contacts which then narrows the connections that can be made in the online world, closes down the information flow horizons and creates homogenized types of information consumption that have the opposite effect of what the web is supposed to be.
While all this is being worked out of course we each have a part to play. The online world gives us great power. Whether we realize it or not the social constructs of the future are being given foundation today. Our clicks, shares, likes, plus ones and comments become part of the digital cultural fabric which goes on to shape perceptions and affect minds.
The creation of the world we want to see truly rests with us, now.