by Howard Fencl, Hennes Communications
Hat’s off to Max Fisher of the New York Times for settling a question roiling dinner tables and family rooms across the country in this ceaseless topsy-turvy age of misinformation: How on earth can people believe the outlandish viral nonsense that persists and thrives on social media? Child sex trafficking at a pizza shop promulgated by politicians! A president scheming to limit our burger and barbeque consumption!
Fisher’s headline explains it all in five words: “Belonging is Stronger Than Facts.” Sociologist Zeynep Tufekci elaborates in MIT Technology Review: “We bond with our team by yelling at the fans of the other one.” And the more gullible audiences become to misinformation, the slicker bad actors get in seeding the public with obfuscation, misinterpretation and lies on social platforms.
Clients reach out to us regularly, wringing their hands about the beating their reputation is taking from a legion of Twitter and Facebook trolls. So, what can you do when you’re the social media target of disinformation du jour?
An M.I.T. study reported in Science says that, surprisingly, truthtellers are in the majority on social media. Robinson Meyer wrote “Users who share accurate information have more followers, and send more tweets, than fake-news sharers. These fact-guided users have also been on Twitter for longer, and they are more likely to be verified. In short, the most trustworthy users can boast every obvious structural advantage that Twitter, either as a company or a community, can bestow on its best users.”
But trolls win the numbers game, retweeting and sharing with millions of like-minded people. You’ll never sway the most hardcore fake news acolytes, though you have a shot persuading the undecided masses on the fence and evangelizing your true believers. But you can’t be complacent. Your mom was wrong. The bully won’t just go away if you ignore him.