#ThinkingAllowed: Fake news and fake lives

Wow! More than 130 people ‘liked’ my latest Facebook picture. Is it a reflection of popularity? Absolutely not!  

Unfortunately, we have developed a sense of false belief that our social media presence is a true reflection of who we are, how many friends we have and how happy we are.  It is not.

Whilst it is a useful tool to share photographs and stay in touch with family and friends it has also become an obsession for many who want to show the world just how perfect their lives are.

Hands up how many of us have posted a picture online purely to seek attention or to try and show you are feeling on top of the world?  Perhaps you have split from your ex but you will not give them, or anyone else, the satisfaction of seeing you sad.  Happiness is your revenge.  But, like with other things, is this, again a happiness you have falsely created?

Look at your friends’ profiles: “Off to Orlando” says one with smiles, as if they were auditioning for Mickey Mouse. 

“Drinks with friends tonight”, with a table full of empty drinks, posts another and then there is the “off on an adventure” with a sunset in a remote romantic idyllic setting.

There is nothing wrong in any of this.  They are a true reflection of that precise moment. But, it doesn’t show us what happened before or after – the argument over who takes the window seat on the plane, how your partner was annoyed because you failed to screw the toothpaste cap back on in the morning or perhaps even a discussion over a serious matter.  The pictures are just moments in what otherwise would be, just like ours, ordinary lives including all the ups and downs life brings for us all.

Sadly, there are also those who may be lonely and have found in social media friends they do not really have.

Each can use their own profiles as suits them best (within the limits of the law and I would argue with a sense of responsibility not to offend others) but I am always concerned with people around us thinking that someone’s life is better than their own – because they have seen it online.  

It is great that we are more prone to share the good moments. But, everyone has problems, everyone needs real friends (not just an online list of friends) and everyone has their doubts and concerns.  

I would be particularly concerned if this is all having an effect on young people, whose lives can be more widely shaped by their social media presence. Do they look at their friends and feel that sometimes they do not fit into that ‘perfect’ life that others portray? What does it do for their future? What of their future relationships?

This example applies to all, unless you are in the minority and do not have a Facebook page, Twitter account, Snapchat and the rest of them that constantly come into the market.

At a time when “Fake News” has been so much in the news, it is important to realise that not everything we see or read online is real, or true for that matter.

An analysis by the private American internet company BuzzFeed News recently found that top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.

Media giants Facebook and Google are investing heavily in blocking fake news.

Easier said than done.  Experts claim the only way to stop widespread sharing is for users to spot these and not share them at all.  Research also worryingly shows we are all pretty bad at distinguishing fake news from real on social media.  It means we will unwittingly share messages which are false and not true.  

It is one of the reasons why journalism matters more than ever before.  In the past we have relied almost exclusively on the Gibraltar Chronicle and/or GBC to give us the local news.  Now, we have endless sources.  But, can they all be trusted?  It is therefore vital for our professional providers to rise to the challenge so they can remain at the forefront of local news as trustworthy outlets. 

Imagine Facebook and other forums as the equivalent of a coffee shop where people used to go to for their news (or should that be gossip) before the arrival of the internet. The principle applies also in our professional and personal lives.

In a world where popularity is uppermost on many people’s minds, it is also more important than ever before for our politicians and those prominent in society to keep their ear to the ground. But this must apply to us too.   

Sometimes social media will give us a reflection of what matters to the community but that will not always be the case.  It is easy for partisan views or the mouthy few to be heard loudest.  If politicians, like the rest of us, become so engrossed in constantly checking their posts for “likes” they too may lose sight of the real issues.

Question what you read and see and come to your own conclusions.  Continue to enjoy social media, but before you capture the moment to share with others make sure YOU are living it and enjoying everything it has to offer.

mm
James Neish
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