It is not surprising that users of Twitter employ the platform to speak their minds and make their voices heard; however, this rapid dissemination can be toxic to many, and while some Twitter users are viable sources, their facts and information may not be.
This poses a huge problem for 974 million Twitter users—according to analytics firm Twopcharts—and public figures like President Donald Trump are adding to it by spreading opinions and incorrect information, in addition to manipulating public opinion.
Trump, for example, has used Twitter as his primary method of reaching the masses. As of Feb. 15, with 24.8 million followers and 34.5 thousand tweets, to boot, it does not come as a shock that his 140-character messages spread like wildfire—yet most contain “facts” that pose as a disservice to many.
It also should not come as a surprise that presidents throughout history have used mass media to reach the public. FDR used his fireside chats to reach Americans, Eisenhower televised presidential news conferences, and Reagan televised his speeches to foster greater trust.
A recent Newsweek article featuring the narrow scope of Trump’s tweets remarks similarly about the spread of opinion and misguided media messages.
“All of these methods of reaching the public directly were designed to instill confidence or push for particular legislation,” says Newsweek contributor Kurt Eichenwald, “not to attack ‘Saturday Night Live’ for lampooning Trump or actresses like Meryl Streep for criticizing him.”
Because of comments like these, many politicians have been reprimanded on social media and have subsequently resigned due to their online remarks, and for good cause.
According to The Telegraph, Pamela Ramsey Taylor, director of the Clay County Development Corp in West Virginia, left an intolerant, racist comment on Facebook in December regarding Michelle Obama’s appearance, despite later saying that the comment was based on the First Lady’s beauty and not her skin color.
Seriously? You’re lying. Here’s Taylor’s tweet: “It will be so refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”
Beverly Whaling, the mayor of Clay, West Virginia, responded shortly after with an equally—and blatantly—intolerant message: “Just made my day Pam.”
Taylor resigned from her position of power following the incident, and after responding to the intolerant remark and seeing that a petition with 121,000 signatures to remove her from office existed, Whaling resigned as well.
Misinformation is not always spread so dramatically. According to a Huffington Post article by Jamie Bartlett, head of the Center for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos, after the 7.1-magnitude Talca earthquake in Chile, Twitter self-regulated and was successful in filtering out false information.
“One academic group found that Twitter weeded out falsehoods: 95 percent of ‘confirmed truth’ tweets were ‘affirmed’ by users, while only 0.3 percent were denied,” Bartlett reports. “By contrast, around 50 percent of tweets later found to be false were ‘denied’ by users.”
Even in Twitter’s infancy, false information was being spread—yet it was being fact-checked and was able to self-regulate to an extremely efficient degree.
Another example of information spreading in a positive light includes the devastating cholera epidemic occurring in Haiti back in 2010.
“Authorities used specialist software to check the location of cholera-related tweets,” Graham Scott of the Global Government Forum says, “and could pinpoint where outbreaks were starting well before any other official channels could react.”
Events like this are beneficial to the online community and actually help foster that sense of community, even if it occurs intangibly through the internet. It is a disservice to the general public if information coming from people with positions of power is being mismanaged and misinterpreted on such a large scale.
It is so important to know what the facts are, and it is even more important to find out if they are actually true, instead of just taking them at face value.
As a civilized member of society, one must always be wary of information given, and one has to be educated lest the facts are wrong. We do not live in an Orwellian society, and “alternative facts” are not actual, true facts.