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Fake news and dangerous views

Social media: a blessing and a curse. A cluster of platforms that can connect and mobilise. That can catalyse change and share information and messages of hope and unity. Simultaneously, platforms which can be used to share misinformation, incite hatred, and anonymously bully others.

Before the world became consumed by social media, news was received from trusted sources – in print through journalists and media outlets (who have codes of conduct and moral obligations). Social media has enabled a new means of disseminating and publishing information. This involves little regulation and, in many cases, no editorial standards. 

While there’s nothing new about fake news, it is social media which has become an enabler in sharing false information far and wide – and fast. It has provided a platform for billions of people to express themselves, exchange views and learn from each other’s experiences. Yet it is also used to share biased propaganda and mislead audiences. I think it’s the biggest enemy our generation face. I fear for the long-term implications of fake news shared across social media, inhaled by people who believe what they’re reading is reliable and informed.

The use of algorithms is equally as frightening, as people are often targeted with certain information depending on their search and scroll history.

This phenomenon of ‘filter bubbles’ sees social media companies select new content for users based on their previous engagement with content.

This reinforces information consumption patterns so it becomes less likely that users are exposed to differing views or opinions. 

In today’s tech-savvy world, it is so easy to create reliable looking content. You only have to consider what makes a trustworthy website or design to recreate something aesthetically similar. Social media has led to essentially anybody becoming an authority on news distribution, with little to no fact-checking.

Teamed with today’s cancellation or call-out culture, businesses and individuals of influence have even more pressure and responsibility to ensure they are not enablers of the sharing of misinformation. There is no room for a lapse of judgement.

Traditionally, brands have shied away from making political corporate statements, although this is starting to change.

One company who has always maintained corporate activism and social responsibility at the forefront of their marketing strategy is Ben and Jerry’s.

Launching in 1978, it began with matters affecting its home state Vermont, but now leads global campaigns aiming to create peace and combat fake news and hate.

While the world’s attention has been caught by limiting the spread of the coronavirus, they chose to continue battling for the causes that may have temporarily fallen to the back of society’s mind.

One of their most recent campaigns saw them speak out against the UK Home Office’s treatment of migrants. Their official Twitter account challenged Priti Patel over the government’s strategy to stop the flow of migrants. They shared a thread of links about the issue, referring to a ‘lack of humanity’ by the Home Office. While Ben and Jerry’s were criticised by Foreign Office minister James Cleverly for ‘statistically inaccurate virtue signalling’, YouGov BrandIndex data shows consumers have responded positively to their message. Just a week after the tweet both their consideration score and purchase intent score rose – despite the weather being colder and wetter. They also got more people talking, with their word of mouth exposure score continuing to rise.  

Similarly, Patagonia which has always been a political brand, has been in the news due to hidden labelling in their clothing which reads ‘Vote the assholes out’. While some see this as a viral gimmick, it is a bold political statement nonetheless, reminding consumers of the brand’s ethos and the larger problems we face. 

The proliferation of misinformation can destroy the social fabric of already divided societies. Reputations can be damaged, innocent people can have their character defamed and vilified. Even saints can be torn down by fake news. There are an awful lot of gullible people in the world! Something so frivolous can have serious effects.

For a long time we have had a natural inbuilt instinct to think, what does it matter? This does not affect me. In a year of challenging injustice, perhaps we should begin to consider more seriously, what we are inhaling.

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