Monday, September 3, 2012

Social networks: the new major media

A few days ago, I got an email from Sarah Wenger, with an infographic she developed about the power of online people. There is a line that says "Social media is becoming the new major media". This is basically right, I think we are all aware that Facebook and Twitter (for example) are the main way for the diffusion of news. Is this good or bad? This question, obiously, is stupid. Tecnology is not good and not bad: tecnology is just an instrument. The use people do of tecnology can be positive or negative.

The problem is that social networks does not have an "editorial staff" that checks news. This is the reason of many fake news (in italian we call them "bufale", like the mozzarella). Sure, also newspaper and televisions are not "super partes", but usually they are a little more reliable. Basically, an ill-intentioned person could use social networks to spread news to control what people think. In Italy, we seen something like this some months ago, when Facebook was filled with fake news about new incredible taxes (I remember a "tax on dogs"): those news were made to put the public against new laws the Government made to fight tax evasion.
The freedom of internet can be used to control people. And there is no tecnical solution, since the problem does not came from the tecnology: free software can not help in this situation. The only solution is that people must use the brain.
This is the reason for which I think in the primary school children should be taught to understand what is true and what is not, without believing at anything they read on the internet.

By the way, you can find the full infographic at the address:


  1. Some years back I was a primary school teacher in England. I found that children in the 9-11 age group were very interested and quite able in discussing this issue - not social media, of course, which was not then invented, but the various ways that news spreads and how to tell fact from fantasy.

    I doubt if any government would put this onto official curriculum, but I believe it is of the utmost importance.

  2. There is in fact a tax on dogs in the Netherlands.

  3. A little over fifty years ago, when I was in the sixth form, we had a visit from a "gentleman from the Times" who gave us hints on how to sort the wheat from the chaff amongst the newspaper stories. One of the examples he gave us of a reliable report was from the Times (of course). A few years later, I realised this report was also incorrect.

    As I grew older, I came across more examples where newspaper stories were incorrect, either through bias (usually political), they didn't understand the subject (usually science), were drunk and/or absent at the time of recording an event (usually sports) or were otherwise incompetent.

    It's a scary thought that the younger generations will be relying for their news on something that's even more unreliable than the Press.