It is obvious, but sometimes forgotten, that most people choose a flattering Facebook profile and send out news of how successful they are. Others, sitting at home looking at other people’s ‘successful’ lives, might think most of them are happier and more talented than they are, having more fun. The more time you spend looking at the fantasy world of Facebook lives, the less time you spend in the real world, where it is obvious they also have bad hair days, but don’t publicise them.
Some profiles are downright lies, with middle aged men posing as young children to entrap victims. The author of this page once posted a fake profile as a test, using his great-grandfather’s face, and within a few days had lots of new friends, none of whom he had ever heard of, many of them with very flattering and provocative images. So Google might be relatively more honest, but how reliable is it? If you type in “what is the best tile for my bathroom?” will you get an honest answer? And how would you know? How do you know who to believe and how influenced are you by the answers?
These questions are especially important because social media are now so widespread and so heavily consumed, all day every day, that they have become one of the best ways to influence voters. Not by offering facts or arguments that can influence them honestly, but by spreading false stories, hints, innuendo and jokes to try to push people away from their usual ideas, the confines of their Overton windows, towards accepting something they would normally reject. For example, racism is something most people would reject, or say they would. Then a Facebook page appears asking “Isn’t it weird that our flags offends so many people but our benefits don’t?” This comes from a site asking us to make St George’s Day a public holiday (ordinary patriotism?) but it also has entries in which a story about Muslims is very critical of Islam.
Another one says “British Schools should Fly the British Flag, Teach British History, Celebrate Our Heritage, Support our Armed Forces. Share if you agree.” Ordinary patriotic people would wish to support our armed forces, but who sent the message? The site is labelled British and Proud and among stories about how we love the Queen and Princess Diana is another story criticising Muslims.
Slowly, beneath the obvious patriotism, a diet of ‘facts’ and ideas that make Muslims seem unBritish are being fed into our minds. The Overton window is being nudged in a certain direction so we might unconsciously start to find certain ideas or statements more acceptable, or less unacceptable. Together, they oppose the Union Jack and ordinary decent people to The Others, of whom we need to be afraid, or wary.
Being on Facebook, it may be read in a lazy, uncritical way and shared by people who don’t really understand exactly what they are sharing, the hidden message below the headline.
One answer is the range of sites that have appeared to look into abuse of the internet and the use of ’fake’ stories’, Here are just a few:
Even old-fashioned mainstream media can be lazy and need checking. In 2017 a story about a small girl put into foster care became very popular. Apparently she was a Christian but was fostered with a Muslim family who veiled their faces, refused her bacon and told her she was wicked.( n1 ) Except that none of this was true. Which did not stop many newspapers spreading it.
So, Facebook can be abused and Google seems a better place to look for facts or truth, but we already know it contains some lies. Maybe the best we can do is admit that all publicly available information could, in theory, be tainted, and work out the best way to recognise when it is. Polish your crapometer.