Search This Blog

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Social Media, Mass Media, and Misinformation

 Blake Hounshell at NYT:

And by the way, Musk is in the middle of firing thousands of Twitter employees, including members of the trust and safety teams that manage content moderation.

“It’s an egregiously irresponsible thing to do just days before midterms that are likely to be mired by voter intimidation, false claims of election rigging and potential political violence,” said Jesse Lehrich, a co-founder of the nonprofit watchdog group Accountable Tech.

Part of what’s going on here is declining levels of trust in the pillars of American civic life — a decades-long trend captured vividly in “Bowling Alone,” Robert Putnam’s famous book from 2000.

The numbers are even worse now. Jeffrey Jones, an analyst at Gallup, noted in July that Americans had reached “record-low confidence across all institutions.”

News organizations polled near the bottom of Gallup’s list. Just 16 percent of the public said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers, and only 11 percent said the same for TV news.

The differences by party were stark. Just 5 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of independents said they had high confidence in newspapers, and only 35 percent of Democrats said the same. All of these numbers had declined from a year earlier.

Coming in the middle of a midterm election in which journalists are trying to inform millions of voters about what’s happening and to help them assess the ideas and personal characteristics of the candidates, Gallup’s finding was alarming.

And that’s just one data point. A recent poll by Bright Line Watch, a project run by a group of political scientists, found that 91 percent of Democrats were confident that their vote would be counted, versus just 68 percent of Republicans. That lack of trust is the starter fuel of election denialism.


Surveys show that younger people increasingly trust what they see on social media about as much as they trust traditional news sources. Data also shows that readers often can’t tell the difference between news reporting and opinion, even when they are labeled explicitly. Social media timelines jumble them all up together.

And, as the Pew Research Center has noted, people don’t even agree on what a “fact” is: “Members of each political party were more likely to label both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed more to their political side,” Pew wrote in 2018.