Recently the American President Joe Biden, echoing what many pundits have been saying, said that Facebook and other social media were “killing people”. Was he right? There is no doubt that all kinds of untruths are flowing freely on social media. It doesn’t take long after surfing in it to realize that. But does that mean social media is killing people? Either way, what do we do about it?
First, we cannot say, as gun lovers say, ‘guns don’t kill people; people kill people.’ Similarly, it is not fair to say that social media doesn’t kill people; people kill people. We have to look at the issue with a little more nuance than that.
For one thing, Biden, and other liberals must be careful about what they wish for. Conservatives already believe that social media is yoked to liberal elites. Getting such social media to nix all misinformation about the vaccine may backfire. The conservatives may believe official sources less than before this happened. Lots of good information about Covid-19 and other matters is also spread by Facebook. Not just bad stuff.
Facebook has also pointed out in a statement:
“The fact is that more than two billion people have viewed authoritative information about Covid-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
Philip Bump of the Washington Post said, “states that voted for Donald Trump in the last election are suffering vaccination rates far lower than states that went for Biden. This suggests the anti-vaccine movement has achieved a kind of cultural escape velocity.”
If there is one thing we have all learned in the age of the Internet, it is that it and in particular social media, such as Facebook is astonishingly effective at fanning embers of untruth into raging fires. It is much less effective at spreading truth.
Some of us think we are immune to the lies of social media. Perhaps we should not be so confident. Is fact checking so easy? Is due diligence enough?
As Kara Swisher said,
“But the ability to resist social media juggernauts pales in comparison to the tremendous power of these platforms to amplify bad information. Attempting to stop falsehoods by claiming to offer good information is like using a single sandbag to hold back an impossibly fetid ocean. It’s like that when it comes to a range of once-anodyne, now divisive issues, from election integrity to critical race theory to whatever, keeping this country in a constant state of twitchy confusion.
Is Facebook killing people, then, since it provided the invention that allows all this to happen? Not exactly. But it reminds me of the famous quotation that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes,” which is — ironically — misattributed to Mark Twain (it is considered to actually be a version of a line first written by Jonathan Swift).”
Wherever it came from, it remains even more prescient, except now lies travel much faster — thanks to Facebook.
We should be careful about immodesty in criticizing others until we have our own house in order. We must be willing however to point out those who have earned criticism. For example, the blatant falsehoods on Fox News much not be quietly accepted. Remember how at the beginning of the crisis they said it’s not as bad as the flu. Then later, they said it was stupid to wear masks. Now they are haranguing on about vaccines and health orders.
So things are complicated. Truth is complicated. As Swisher said,
“The truth is that Facebook serves as a gateway to both, presenting clearly solid information about Covid, as well as a place where an enormous flood of lies about it has overwhelmed the same zone — and for a much longer time.
Back in May of last year, for example, as noted in The New York Times, there was “Plandemic.” That is a 26-minute video alleging that a secret group of powerful people were using the virus and the upcoming vaccines to make money and consolidate control over the world.”
For example, the film Plandemic spread a number of falsehoods about the pandemic that thanks to Facebook quickly spread around the world, including, even, to the tiny little hamlet of Labroquerie Manitoba 10 Km from here where their Reeve, Weiss “learned” untruth and untruth and helped spread the misinformation in our region.
We need to think critically–even about social media. After even though it spreads a lot of lies, it also spreads good stuff–like this post.