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Tim Burke: social media not necessarily factual information

The Internet and social media has greatly enhanced the capabilities of those that want to attack someone or something.

From virtually anywhere in the world someone can create a Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram account or other social media account in just a few minutes and then have the ability to reach millions of people with their message.

They can do this with no filters, with no rules or regulations, and with little consequence. Often nameless and faceless, those that use the internet and social media for negative or destructive purposes do so with the knowledge that there will be little repercussion for their actions or that their identity will be exposed.

This ability to be anonymous also applies to those that post negative reviews of businesses online. The review could be completely false and yet it gets posted with no verification by the online review company. Often false negative reviews are posted by fired employees or competitors who want to harm the business. Getting a negative review removed is very difficult. Even if you can prove that it was libel the online review websites will not remove the negative entry without a court order to do so.

Social media sites like Facebook claim that they are “self-policing” their sites and removing pages that are directed toward racism, discrimination, and hate. But who sets Facebook’s policies on what is offensive and what is free speech?

As we have recently found out, internet giant Google has internal staff policies directed towards removing employees with conservative viewpoints. So, if the social media sites have a particular affinity for certain politicians, politics, or agendas are they to be trusted to give a fair delivery of viewpoints that don’t agree with their internal view? Probably not.

Not long ago we thought all we had to worry about is whether information posted on a webpage is true or not. A hilarious commercial ran on TV spoofing fake internet information by stating in the commercial “I saw in on the internet so it must be true.”

I have come across numerous websites with completely false information. For example, from my past experience in training police K-9s I was exposed to dog breeders that often touted how their dogs were from top police dog bloodlines and how they were just the best dogs you could find.

In particular, I knew one breeder who had pictures of her dogs with training certifications listed in parentheses next to the dogs’ names. The dogs did not have those training certifications and when I confronted the breeder about it, I was told “well, it’s because those are certifications they are working towards.” Obviously, a ploy on her part to make her dogs look more credible than they were and false advertising.

For the unsuspecting person, they had no way of knowing that the information on her website was misleading. There are no internet police making sure that everything that is published online is factual.

At least with internet sites there is generally an administrative process in place if a website owner or creator wants to make changes to their website. That person will need to log in to the administrative portion of their site with the necessary credentials to edit text or pictures. Once the editing is completed it is published to the internet for viewing. Not easy to do from a phone and every time you want to make a change you need to log in and repeat the process.

Websites are essentially a static page and not interactive like the social media sites that are constantly updating with a stream of information. With the advent of smartphones, posting on social media is done in “real time” and easy to do.

For individuals or small groups that have radical and/or extreme views that want to influence others to their views, social media has become their weapon of choice and not traditional websites. Very quickly they can reach millions with their message and little can be done to prevent it.

That is how a small number of individuals (doesn’t matter if you are talking alt right, alt left, KKK, Antifa, etc.) can have an impact far greater than the actual number of people who might actually agree with them. Often mainstream media picks up on the radical extreme group through social media (especially if it agrees with its politics), and by bringing attention to it, further increases the influence of these types of individuals and groups.

The views are often presented as factual, when in fact there may be little real evidence to support the radical and extreme groups’ justification for their actions.

A lot of attention has been given lately to these small fringe individuals and groups and their extreme views. Far more than is justified. Next time you hear about “mass” demonstrations and violent protests, just keep in mind that it’s probably only a small number of people that have learned to use social media to spread their extreme message and that it’s not everyday Americans creating the chaos.

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Pahrump resident. Contact him at timstakenv@gmail.com

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