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Snared in the net

Попавшие в сети

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Reality in small doses

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Friday, September 2, 2016

Nowadays you don’t need to buy a newspaper to get the latest news. If you have a computer, the news will find you. Your friends probably share all the sensational headlines they see with you.

You read the news items you get from your friends and scratch your head—this isn’t interesting enough to read till the end! Don’t feel bad—most readers of Internet news only get halfway through an article. Many who share news on social networks haven’t even gotten that far!

But this doesn’t bother anybody: social networks have become an important source of information for many people. For example, recent research conducted in the United States showed that about 62% of respondents—in other words, 6 out of 10 Americans—get their news precisely on social networks such as Facebook and Instagram.

The information we receive every day forms our thoughts, actions, and attitudes toward events and people. What effect can the manipulated information we get on the Internet have on us?

According to a study by American psychologist Robert Epstein, a search service on the scale of Google could ascertain up to 25% of all elections results in the country. A controlled experiment with 2,150 undecided voters in India in 2014 showed that, on average, the effect of “vote manipulation power” (VMP) was 24%, and in some social groups, it reached 72%!

In this regard, we should not forget the immortal words of Russian writer Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), who said: “If you say in the first act that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the final act it absolutely must go off”.

Facebook’s news section has been described as nothing more than an automated system for displaying trending topics. Taking into account the site’s hundreds of millions of users, this small section has more readers than any other media. And a short time ago, it was revealed that not only is this system manipulated, it is also pretty biased! An editor working one shift wouldn’t use certain news simply because she did not like it, and would promote another news story that was more aligned with her political interests. And the editor who took over after that her did the exact opposite. Moreover, some sources were considered notoriously unreliable and not worthy of attention for the same reasons, and therefore, news wasn’t considered relevant if it didn’t get picked up by media that the current editor liked.

In this case, there wasn’t any strategic purpose of all those manipulations—everyone just acted according to their own tastes, without giving much thought to the consequences.

The Anti-virus Times recommends

  • Do not base your knowledge about the world on articles that—at best—you’ve read half way through. If you’ve decided to study a subject or topic, study it thoroughly. In other words, look for different sources of information about it, and compare facts.
  • Do not take posts on social media on faith, regardless of how many likes or reposts they’ve scored. Check the information in several sources.
  • When searching for information, try to ignore your initial impression; while it is formed most easily, it can also be the most easy to manipulate.
  • Do not attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity. If you discover that attempts are being made to manipulate your opinion, check to see what’s really going on—it could be that the "spin doctor" involved was acting very carelessly and has no far-reaching plans in mind for you. But certainly take note of this incident.


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