Missing: Informed Opinions in the Age of Social Media and Brexit

Opinion

By Sophia Obrecht

Fake News seems to be the buzzword of the day, and as much as I may disagree with President Trump, his views and policies, the issue of false information is an important issue in society today — of course much of the current misinformation is actually spread by individuals such as the US president himself.

As a child I was always told not to believe everything you read, especially the things you see on the internet. At university you’re taught to only use information from sources that are believed to be reliable, so why then is it so easy to find fake information and misleading claims on the internet, in the public sphere, and in political campaigns?

Who Is in Charge Here?

One of the biggest issues with the spread of misinformation or ‘fake news’ is the lack of regulation when it comes to social media posts and fact checking. Social media platforms such as Facebook fail to take real responsibility for fake news, leaving the online world open to mass speculation and uncontrollable sensationalism. If you’re writing for a reputable magazine or newspaper, statements and facts must be checked. If you’re sat at home on your sofa, or even behind your desk in the Oval Office, ready to send out a tweet, there is nothing stopping you. Of course, social media platforms are, in many ways, designed to facilitate the spread of personal messages and opinions, and allow for the principle of free speech … but what happens when free speech becomes hate speech, or when personal opinions are represented as facts, with nothing other than hearsay to back them up, what then?

The B Word

The other day I couldn’t help overhear a conversation on a flight from Brussels to Manchester. One man says to another ‘We’ll be better off when we are out of the bloody EU, just look at Sweden, they’re doing ok with their Volvos, and they’re not part of Europe’. Just let that sink in, here was a man so against the EU, referencing the prosperity of another nation, Sweden, as proof of the positive effect of being independent from the European Union. But here’s the problem, if you haven’t already clocked it….Sweden is in in fact in the EU, free movement and all (minus the euro of course)! How can you be so against the European Union when you can’t even grasp the basics of which countries are actually member states?

So yet again we come to the big old B word, Brexit. So many of us have strong opinions on the subject, and so we should, it’s a political event that will shape our lives for many, many (many) years to come, and not for the better if you ask me (although some of you may disagree). The problem is, that to this day I hear so many strong voices, negative voices, claiming the EU is this and that, claiming we will be better off out of it. Of course there are those who shout loudly from the rooftops in favour of the EU, and I certainly won’t pretend to be an expert on the ins and outs, and fine print of the European Union, however I’m not part of the group fighting to change our status within Europe, which has seen the UK grow with the support of its European neighbours, and which allowed me to live and study abroad, a dream which I hope others will continue to enjoy. But on what grounds do those in favour of Brexit justify their opinion, show me the data, show me the plan, which reveals the bright shining future of Britain outside the EU ? I want more than anything to be proven wrong, to find that our post-EU situation won’t be as bad as what I believe it could be…but my hopes are fading fast.

Fake Photos and Unattainable Aspirations

Here in lies the problem, people shouting opinions, spreading information, simply repeating statements they have heard or seen on social media, ultimately leading to chain of misinformation. Of course myths, stories and old wives tales, have spread through word of mouth since the beginning of time, but there this something more sinister, as platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow for the mass spreading of misinformed opinions disguised as facts! Individuals become outraged, emotionally invested in a fact or statement that isn’t even based on truth. They are promised something, a better life, lower taxes, political control. However it is the prominence and prevalence of social media, seeing an opinion on a screen, liked by millions which serves to make such promises more believable.

Even when it comes to the images we see on social media, on Instagram, we are left looking at fake images, fake portrayals of what we believe to be reality. Whether it’s unattainable body shapes, created by Photoshop or practiced angles, we’re taught to believe in something that isn’t real — a political cause, a mass image of beauty, or a lifestyle which we won’t ever live up to.

So here is a call to action regardless of your political creed, left or right, leave or remain, whether you’re a prolific Instagramer or not, next time you feel outraged, intrigued, or even moved by a fact or statement you find online, or hear in the public sphere, take the time to read around the subject before you start sharing your thoughts with others, because informed opinions have the power to change this crazy, sensationalist world, all it takes is a bit of common sense.


Informed opinions have the power to change this crazy, sensationalist world, all it takes is a bit of common sense.

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