Be discerning on social media

Fake news carried in social media is said to have had influenced the outcome of the United States presidential election ("Hit fake news sites where it hurts" by Mr Kwan Jin Yao; Nov 21, "Sceptical about new media? Good for you"; Nov 20 and "Obama hits out at spread of fake news"; Nov 19).

The era of "post-truth" is here to stay.

Social media has always been inflammatory. Unlike traditional media that has stories checked for accuracy, the new media thrives on the speed of clicks.

The pressure comes from getting the word out fast and passed on like wild fire. The information then takes on a life of its own.

Few new-media platforms take the trouble to check their sources and authenticity. In fact, few people care to check for authenticity amid a frantic pace of life.

While we are keen to be informed, we take pride in sharing the latest with our virtual friends. The new media offers us social validation by the clicks on our postings and "likes" we garner.

Thus, we up the ante by posting more shocking stories, pictures and comments to stay popular.

There is an in-built "we see what we like to see" system by how algorithms rank the myriad of stories out there. Our reading habits are captured through time and more of the preferred genres are flagged to us. Consequently, we become more myopic in views, egged on by like-minded friends on social media.

It goes to show that we are all emotional beings. We join the herd because there is safety in numbers. If enough people say the same thing, there must be some truth in it, and so, our solitary self believes.

Thus, we should be more circumspect about our news feeds. We should rely on varied sources for news before we form our views.

We should be less inclined to join the fray on social media in proliferating unchecked stories. We should also train our impressionable young to be discerning.

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 24, 2016, with the headline 'Be discerning on social media'. Print Edition | Subscribe