During the last presidential election cycle here in the United States, it has been confirmed by several reputable news sources and government agencies that Russia tampered with our election. I do not know the full extent to which they did this, but one of the more notable ways was through social media.
This sounds like it came out of an espionage novel, but the truth can be as nefarious as fiction. Russian operatives created fake news sites and blasted Facebook and Twitter with stories that were aimed to dis-inform the general public with slightly skewed or blatantly false information. These stories and headlines were often shared and discussed by users of social media, and with enough time and replication, the perspectives of millions of people were influenced.
Now in 2020, we are approaching the apex of another presidential election cycle. If we do not learn from our mistakes of the past, we are woefully doomed to repeat them.
I have taken the following simple steps to avoid reading news on social media (These apply toward whichever poison you prefer be it Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram).
- Limit time spent on social media.
This is the first line of defense if you know in your soul that you cannot live without being on sites like Twitter and Instagram. The less time you spend on these sites, the smaller the likelihood that you will click on the sensational headlines that your friends share. It’s not likely that your friends are vetting the sources of these stories or the websites they came from, however benign your friends may be.
Avoiding social media as much as possible will significantly minimize the possibility of disinformation spreading to your brain. Try limiting use to a specific time of day for only an hour. Leave your phone somewhere hard to reach. Do whatever it takes. It’s also likely that you’ll find something better to do with your time.
- Be discerning about what you click and read on social media
It’s one thing to read and comment on a personal story or anecdote that a friend shares. It is another thing entirely to click on the news links people display. Not only can these websites provide false or misleading information, but they can also have malware that can get into your computer. (Again, this sounds crazy, but the technology exists.) You do not have to click on any news headlines at all, but if you have to, proceed with caution and a questioning disposition.
I find it much more useful to connect with friends about their lives than to discuss political opinions and news. That is the filter that I use to navigate through my feeds.
- Use legitimate sources outside of social media to get your news.
As the previous election demonstrates, the algorithms and technology behind social media cannot be trusted. When I disengage from the addictive cult fashioned by Mark Zuckerburg and other powers that be, I seek out actual news sites for detailed information and varying perspectives. This sounds like more effort, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid the mind control that social media seems to be intent on weaponizing.
Incidentally, here is a list of news sites that I like to frequent. Have a look if you are curious, and to make it more convenient, create a folder on your web browser’s “Favorites” list to house them all for easy access. (If you do not like any of these, proceed with caution and skepticism to find others.)
- The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/us
- National Public Radio (NPR): https://www.npr.org
- The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com
- The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com
- CNN: https://www.cnn.com
This year’s presidential election will be fraught with drama and noisy divisiveness. It will be more important than ever to be clearheaded and focused on the platforms of different candidates and how you feel about them.
Stay engaged and informed, and please, do not get your news from social media.