Doing Social Media? What's Fake News? Should I still do surveys? What happens if I like your post? What happens if I share your post? Is my news feed real? FAQs answered on data mining, social media and generally being savvy about what you do on the net.

When and what of my data is being harvested?

  • All your interactions on a platform can be tracked, if tracking is enabled.
  • Your page views, your ‘likes’ and your shares can all count to build up a detailed profile of who you are and your preferences.
  • Surveys are a wonderful method of gathering personal data.

For example, do you really believe that anyone can really give you an honest answer to a survey that says ‘What kind of cat are you?’It might seem like a bit of fun, but consider those questions and your answers. You are probably giving away a lot and then if you share the result with all your friends who, now that you have personally endorsed the survey, will take it themselves and then share it too. Surveys are designed to be infectious.

Why do people want my data or preferences?

This information is essential in order to create a profile for you as a target and to allow content to be streamed to you according to your preferences. 

Let's look at a couple of examples.

a) I am a bona fide business and I sell cat products and I am wishing to advertise on a social media site.

b) I am in politics and running for election: I want you to vote for me and not for Mr X.

You have done the cat personality survey, you are always sharing cat videos and you have in the past clicked on some cat product adverts on the platform. We (the platform) can clearly see from your movements around the platform that you like cats.

In scenario a) when I buy advertising on the platform, I check my preferences for my target audience I therefore tick a box to specify that my adverts will go to cat lovers (like you).

If I am running the platform it is also in my interest to keep cat lovers on my site (this attracts cat product advertisers). The platform therefore ensures that your feeds and those of your friends have lots of nice catty images and videos. We all want to reinforce your cat love!

Scenario b) negative political advertising

The platform is already ensuring that lots of lovely catty images and posts are going to cat lovers. I want to discredit Mr X so, my campaign targets cat lovers and indisperses the nice and cuddly postings with reports of how Mr X or his followers have been implicated in cat torture. My campaign adds posts from different fake accounts which tell of Mr X’s anti-cat activities. Some genunine cat haters will get involved because they always will: this is the web, this stirs things up. My campaign make a number of anti-cat memes some of which feature Mr X. The campaign continues to post nice pics of me and pretty kitties. We continue this strategy throughout the election. You are being brainwashed. You will think I like cats and Mr X does not like cats. That may well affect your judgement: I am good, you will vote for me because I like cats.

Making friends and influencing?

  • You are also useful to platforms as you can be used as a tool to influence your friends.
  • Every 'share' or 'like' endorses whatever it is you are sharing or liking.
  • We all know the power of marketing: advertising is about brand awareness.
  • Create something good enought to share and it gets passed on. Put something in front of enough people and it will catch on.

Why do they want things to ‘go viral’?

  • The power of that video that goes viral lies in the fact that I can attach an advertisement to it.
  • What goes viral is not always that which is the best or has the most likes or shares, you can pay to go viral.
  • Sometimes the hits on that video are not genuine. The platform will push paid content, as you pay to be at the top of rankings.

Can I control what I see?

  • Not all free websites are bad, not all advertising is bad however you may want to consider if the content that you see is being selected for you and whether you want that.
  • I am sure you aware if you go onto a shopping website and search for an item of clothing you can be pretty much certain that similar items will pop up when you next visit say Facebook or Instagram or any number of free sites e.g. MSN or news sites.
  • When you allow cookies the site stores your details, notes your likes and then shares them with its advertising affiliates.

What is ‘fake news’? Is there a better name for it?

  • This is something that MPs have been considering.
  • The meaning of fake news is becoming ambiguous:  it can describe anything from the deliberate spread of blatant lies to the dishing up of politically disruptive propaganda. The result is published in a news like way online and social media and generally seems to be for some kind of gain.
  • If you are spreading fake news in a malicious way, your aim is surely to disrupt and misinform: the idea being the reader will assume that is something is presented as news it must be true.
  • Politicians, notably Donald Trump use the term ‘fake news’ to refer to anything that they do not like or does not agree with their own ideologies.

Is there a better term for ‘fake news’?

  • MPs suggest that a better alternative is to refer to ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. 

As the term fake news seems likely to stay with us, it might be more pragmatic to endorse just one description.

How about: 'Fake news means the deliberate creation and spreading of lies and disinformation online.'


Author: Nichola Ross Martin

The views in this piece are those of the writer, all comments on this topic are welcome.