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Our Digital Future Is Creating A Divided Society

Questionable sources are replacing the mass media

8Dec

The world is currently in a constant cycle of fear surrounding perceived significant threats.

We have seen that Islamic State has attacked and killed thousands of people, whilst global leaders have gathered to discuss the threat of global warming and presidential candidates in the US discuss everything and anything that is likely to scare voters. It is a time when people need to be well informed in order to not make assumptions or act without thinking clearly, but what we are increasingly finding is that this simply isn't happening.

When we look at the approval ratings for Donald Trump and the main reasons for his success, much of it comes from simple misinformation such as polls with little real verification to full blown accusations, mainly aimed at Muslims and immigrants. The truth is that the vast majority of it has been simply made up to scare people (politifact.com found that out of 72 facts and figures used by Trump, 75% were false and none were entirely true) and the mass media are frequently not the way that people are informing themselves. Indeed, in a recent poll it was found that only 32% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats trusted the traditional mass media.

These numbers mean that people are turning to the less traditional media to try and find answers, which leads them to the web, where they are increasingly browsing the sites that sit best with their views. It means that rather than getting a (comparatively) balanced view moderated by broadcasting standards, most people are receiving their information from unverified, unbalanced and often completely fabricated sources.

Some of the biggest candidates in the presidential race are even picking up on these false facts and putting them in the public domain as fact, which not only damages the concept of finding the truth, but also gives credibility to the facts and makes them more widely known. Take Donald Trump's recent tweet claiming that '81% of murders of white people were committed by black people', which is factually incorrect (the actual number is thought to be closer to 16%). That it wasn't true takes analysis, but if it is a 'fact' in his supporters minds already, then it can have an incredibly detrimental impact.

In fact, both sides of the political spectrum are polarizing opinion, often referring to 'the left' or 'the right' then discussing and often demonizing their beliefs. It makes for a far more toxic environment and deep seeded encampment, with little room for manoeuvring between the two sides.

The concept of being able to research anything on the internet and find 'the facts' is a fantastic opportunity for humanity, but when there are millions of sites claiming to be authorities, it is almost impossible to work out what is true and what isn't. Where it used to be that major news corporations were the benchmark of what could be believed and what couldn't, with so many turning away from them following scandals and mistrust, they are heading to untrustworthy sources, which is damaging political discourse and more importantly societal cohesion. 

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