There is a constantly growing network of companies that specialize in trolling the digital domain, seeking Facebook or Instagram accounts extolling values that reflect the narrative they are intent on marketing. Social media devices are now an appendage of the human anatomy, and we’re not about to let go. These companies know this, and they also know that the sheer volume of information we receive every day makes it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.
Those brought up in the analogue world used to understand that information should be corroborated and not always taken at face value. No time for that today. Instead, we are being exposed to what passes for a credible source, although we rarely question it, because the speed at which we receive the information outweighs our inclination to verify it. It’s not that we don’t want to question the information. It’s simply easier not to, because it appeals so much to our core beliefs. Some might call this rationalization; others insidious brainwashing. The results are the same, and we end up reinforcing beliefs that can affect our decision making.
Little by little, the public’s appetite for corroboration is whittled down in a process that confirms its pre-existing beliefs. It is a type of cognitive bias which systematically supports inductive reasoning, or what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” Over time, we perpetuate the reinforcement of an issue in our minds, which often translates into a defined action. By reducing the thirst for knowledge, we start to lose our capacity for the other side's viewpoint and become more susceptible to influence which reaffirms our own positions.
There is also a new reality emerging on mass media. In the future, don’t expect intelligent discourse and debate on a given issue. Instead, we will be exposed to truths (fake news) and counter truths, and whoever is better at delivering a plausible line with authority will be the winner.
The distribution of information and the dissemination of knowledge should never be confused, although it’s becoming harder to distinguish between them. The real threat to our democracy is that we are starting to shape our decisions on bite-sized portions of information, which we use to make decisions on how we accept legislation, vote for leaders and ultimately reshape the democratic structures of our country.
The threat to our democracy has now been recognized by the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security, which announced that “social media botnet amplification” and the use of social media by adversaries to reach their audience may involve using dummy accounts to amplify a specific message or user.