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perspective

A maxim for our age: Check the facts


Diligence is our only shield against the ‘post truth’ world of social media

Like all tools mankind has invented, the social media is a knife that cuts both ways. When handled responsibly the new technology has enormous potential for good. Criminal acts caught on camera and uploaded to Facebook have helped police to hunt down culprits and victims to get justice. Social-media campaigns get donations of money or blood flowing fast in response to disasters or medical emergencies.
In a recent case, a clip distributed on social media showing a woman beating her five-year-old daughter in Samut Prakan triggered a speedy response from authorities. Scenes of the girl being thrashed with a broomstick and threatened with a knife prompted welfare officials to whisk her and her twin sister into custody, and police to charge the mother with assault.
Such rapid action would have been impossible in the days before social media. But now, given irrefutable evidence gathered by ubiquitous phone cameras and made public in the blink of an eye, it can be impossible for authorities to act otherwise. A delayed response could see law enforcers charged with negligence of duty.
Social media thus offers ordinary citizens a remarkably powerful tool in the battle against crime and injustice.    
But the sword is two-edged. 
The people-to-people networks also seethe with false information, often disseminated deliberately and then shared unwittingly by users who never bother to check the facts or the source. The old maxim – that a lie can spread halfway round the world before the truth has a chance to put his pants on – has never had more veracity than in our age of online echo chambers.
This feature makes the social media a perfect platform for thieves and propagandists. Hillary Clinton supporters have blamed her defeat in last month’s presidential on fake stories of her “corruption” circulating online. Meanwhile so-called phishing scams net millions of dollars from unwitting Netizens every month. 
The Internet now reaches billions of people worldwide, and Thais are among the heaviest users of its online networks. Many are all-too readily convinced by what they hear or see in the social media and so quickly infected by whatever “microbe” of misinformation is circulating.
Fortunately a vaccine lies close at hand. The Internet is also the fastest and most powerful way to fact-check information and sift the truth from the lies. 
Social media services run by companies such as Facebook and Google are practically free of censorship, meaning they are open to abuse and criminal exploitation. The operators won’t move to impose regulations, since that would risk decimating user numbers and reducing revenue from advertising and other sources.
The responsibility to police his cybersphere thus lies with the users themselves. It is up to us to warn our fellow users about misinformation, deception, fraud and other dangers lurking in the social media. 
Our first duty should be to take information shared on the networks with a pinch of salt. Our credulity is the breeding ground in which this bacillus spreads. Hotspots are social-media pages with a large number of followers. These should be monitored closely so any potential source of “infection” can be flagged up quickly. 
Meanwhile authorities must redouble efforts to adapt to a criminal sphere that has relocated to the Internet. Criminals hiding in a digital thicket of false names and redirected addresses can be often be hunted down by their electronic footprints.
Ridding the social media of all the misinformation and fraudulent facts is an impossible task. But it is possible to boost users’ immunity to lies, half-truths and propaganda so that they no longer fall prey so easily to criminals and manipulative rumour-mongers.

Published : December 07, 2016

By : The Nation