How Social Media Actually Shrinks Our World
The internet should open us up to endless possibilities—giving us the entire "world" on our screens and at our fingertips. But a new study suggests that social media platforms like Facebook actually seem to have the opposite effect. Instead of expanding our minds to new ideas, this research shows that social media often isolates us and narrows our views.
For the study, researchers from Italy looked at the spread of two types of information through social media: scientific information and conspiracy theories. The original goal of the study was to examine how and why misinformation spreads online. Study results, which were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that people active on social media tend to select and share information related to a specific narrative—whether it is true or not—and ignore other content, including information that is new or challenging.
Users are more likely to share ideas that are already commonly accepted within their social groups for the purpose of validation or agreement and that, combined with reckless sharing—sharing without really examining what's being passed along—often results in the spread of misinformation or "fake news." Until programs or algorithms that can help clean up misinformation on social media are developed, users can help by doing a little research before hitting that share button.
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