Social-Media Corruption

What proportion of all social-media communication is by bots, spammers, people with agendas who misrepresent themselves, or severely dysfunctional people who pass as normal online? I suspect it’s a large proportion.

There’s not much hard evidence, but every once in a while something like this turns up. I’m guessing it’s the tip of an iceberg. See also this. And who can overlook the partisan trolls who show up on this and other right-of-center blogs before elections. Where do they come from?

None of this apparently widespread Internet corruption should come as a surprise. Given the low costs and lack of barriers to entry it would be surprising if attempts to game the system were less frequent than they appear to be. Nonetheless it’s prudent to keep in mind that a lot of what appears online is probably fake and certainly misleading.


14 thoughts on “Social-Media Corruption”

  1. I guess it comes down to knowing who you interact with and keeping it limited. I don’t see the point of social media like Facebook or Twitter for me. I just don’t have the time or the interest. I do recognize the potential increasing impact on low information people and our culture. Most of that is likely to be negative just as gossip, rumor mongering and plagiarism are in other forms of communication. The anonymity of internet communication is a challenge to accountability, formal or informal, and referent credibility. When folks are conditioned to accepting what the hear, view or read at face value with no verification or critical analysis on their part, “truth” becomes tribal wisdom based on widespread, redundant distribution in a compelling form. At least the internet as opened up a multitude of alternative sources for those willing to do the evaluation.

    I personally am very weary of receiving emails with supposedly factual information with no primary source sited. Way more than half of them turn out to be superficially believable, but either selectively slanted, incomplete and or factually just plain false. I often receive these (and have previously forwarded them) from (to) friends and family. I have resolved not to forward without verification. Too bad the truth finding sites are almost as bad and often interpretive from a political or social agenda even when they cite primary sources.

    To me the most revealing passage in the two articles was from the second, “Last year, the number of Twitter accounts topped 500 million. Some researchers estimate that only 35 percent of the average Twitter user’s followers are real people. In fact, more than half of Internet traffic already comes from nonhuman sources like bots or other types of algorithms. Within two years, about 10 percent of the activity occurring on social online networks will be masquerading bots, according to technology researchers.”

    Sounds like a film opportunity, “I Bot”.


  2. I agree with Death 6 and am amused/horrified at the similarity of this cultural cul de sac we are getting into. It resembles the rumor/conspiracy culture of low literacy societies like the Arabs.

  3. ” It resembles the rumor/conspiracy culture of low literacy societies like the Arabs.” Astute observation, and one I have not heard anywhere else, Mike.

  4. I am an active user of facebook and have to admit that I am really disappointed that so many of my “friends” are idiots on so many levels. I still love them all, but have turned off most of their updates from my feed. I do love seeing photos and upates from family members and cycling pals, however.

  5. Tyouth, I think I know what Dan means, and it relates to what D-6 & Mike wrote above. Keep in mind that a lot of people use Facebook to stay in casual contact with friends & family who they otherwise might not see except special occasions and holidays. I have Facebook friends who I haven’t personally seen or talked to in years, but I have a fairly up-to-date idea of what they & their families are up to.

    There are people I know who, as in-the-flesh friends, are good friends in the sense that you can rely on them, trust them to do what they say, confide in them.

    But when it comes to anything like politics or the larger world beyond the immediate ken of their day-to-day lives and occupation, they turn stupid. They’ll believe things they otherwise wouldn’t believe if their Mom or best friend told them. And they’ll believe it with absolute conviction, without any kind of fact-checking, analysis, or circumspection.

    That’s always been the case, especially with regards to politics, social issues and religion. Thus, the old rule that in mixed company you don’t talk about politics, religion or money. It’s a rule I adhere to strictly on Facebook.

    But, social media and the internet has made it possible for people to become more and more isolated in a self-referencing bubble of the like-minded, less inclined to second-guess or seek out contradictory information, and surprised that anybody they know might disagree with them. It also makes them confident in forthrightly stating their political / social / religious beliefs without considering who in their audience might disagree.

    Like Dan, I’ve turned off various friends’ feed updates because I couldn’t bear what I was seeing. For instance, a few who became part of the virtual lynch mob out to get Zimmerman. People who before I never thought would fall for that kind of crude political manipulation, and people who should have known better. That I found right disturbing.

  6. T.K Tortch says beautifully what I was getting at. When I first started out on fb I challenged some of my friends nonsensical posts about anti-vaccination tripe, or tried to point out that things they were saying were simply false, or have been proven untrue over and over and over. But they are believers and actually got pissed that I would dare challenge their beliefs. So I learned that lesson hard.

    The people that post about politics and pseudo science I just turn off of my feed. Like T.K. Tortch, I stay far away from politics and religion and money. It works well for me.

  7. It’s tough. A few months ago I began talking politics with a business acquaintance, really, a casual friend, and he said “I really don’t pay that much attention”. I couldn’t let that stand and I suggested (in as nice a way as I could) that he should start paying attention since the current admin. was behaving in ways that reminds me, in some ways, of dictatorial regimes. We moved on to other things.

    There was a coolness when next we met. Frankly I don’t care.

  8. I have been observing this type of human behavior closely since reading Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind”.

    So many of our moral judgements are, unwittingly, made at an emotional level (with “reason” applied mostly to the job of “justification”).

    …it is impossible to educate/convince someone on the “other team” of anything in a casual environment like FB. This is a job that requires many days of intensive work, when possible.

    Thus, if we want to maintain loose relationships with those that wear another teams jersey, it is best (as stated by others above) to leave certain subjects to other venues.

  9. On a slightly hopeful note….What I find is that relatively few people are **100%** on (what most of us here would consider to be) the other side; most are more mixed in their views. For example, there is a woman who I’m pretty sure voted for Obama, considers Republicans uncool and fears they will ban birth control OTOH, she is angrily opposed to extended unemployment payments for people who don’t seriously pursue work, and she resents the Democrats’ racial focus and agitation.

    Then there is a guy who is of the Old Left, class-based rather than race/gender-based, who believes today’s political correctness and affirmative action are doing great harm to the American university.

    A woman who has spent her entire career in the business world, married to a career military man, she is utterly without snobbery or intellectual pretentiousness…but laughed at Sarah Palin as “too dumb.”

    OTOH, there is a guy who despises Obama and all his works, but who approvingly cited an idiotic article on how if we’d spent the money we spent on the Iraq/Afghanistan wars on solar panels instead, we’d never have to use fossil fuels for power generation again.

    People’s views and interests are most complex than binary points on a one-dimensional spectrum (exception for extreme herd-followers, to be found mostly in academia, media, and the entertainment industry)…we need to be thinking about market segmentation and segment-specific marketing approaches.

  10. People are flawed and imperfect, and social media captures their ramblings indefinitely. I remember that one time Dan and I were in a bar at a football game in Wisconsin (meaning everyone was AMAZINGLY drunk, as in you have no idea how drunk) and these drunk girls were fighting via text across the bar and I’m sure that their ramblings the next day were horribly stupid and mean. In the past that wouldn’t have happened, but now social media enabled it.

    There has got to be some sort of analytics between time spent on heavy social media and time spent on productive activities and success. It has to be taking away time and brain focus and attention from important things. It is just math.

    You probably can’t show the impact on social interactions and families. Likely the kids growing up will have known no other way. They will think that this is how its always been. And that will be the future.

    I’m staying away from all of it for as long as I can, or just trying to use it for work purposes, like email and Linked In. Linked In has definitely changed job hopping – now you can surreptitiously look for a job by joining groups and contacting people and it is 100x easier than in the old days of cold calling by recruiters – this is one thing that is also subtle and important.

    Agreed that literacy is now down to 140 characters or less for most folks…

  11. I think those in their 20s use these extensively but don’t really go past the posting state to consider the ramifications.

    Have several funny stories -, the bride to be was posting how dumb she thought her future in-laws were and next morning one of said in-laws gets a call from a relative across an ocean wondering “what is this all about?”

    I think these things are nothing more than time sponges for which people like to post the most inane and silly things, to be intensely followed by their “friends”.

    All so superficial – reality TV that everyone can participate in.


    Now I’m going to get another glass of grapefruit juice.

    Going to the dealer to get some parts for my car’s steering rack.

  12. I too have dear, life-long friends who post the stupidest stuff.

    I find that a well-phrase, polite question to which they have no rational response in defense of their belief can at least start the thought process.

    Trying to find common underlying values also helps.

    I highly recommend Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” to understand people and their moral beliefs and points of view. Poor liberals – such a clear poverty of understanding of the world.

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