With COP24 coming to a close at the end of this week, climate change has been relatively newsworthy which likely means that people are more likely to use their favorite search engine to search for information related to climate change. In a recent survey by the Association for Canadian Studies, Canadians reported that they believe the Internet makes them smarter, and they feel they do not have to remember facts or events because they can so easily search them online.
But is it wise to trust search engines as information sources? A growing number of critical information scholars, including Safiya Noble would say otherwise. In honor of COP24, I decided to test the two most popular search engines on the topic of climate change. I entered “climate change is” into both Google, Yahoo and Bing and took screen capture images of their suggested searches. The differences were very interesting.
Well most of us have, anyway. The infamous addendum to your Twitter bio. Come on, you know it – it goes something like this: “RT’s are not endorsements” or “RT’s do not equal endorsements” or something along those lines.
Heck, I have one myself, you can check it out on Twitter if you look up @SocMedDr. It serves as a little disclaimer. A little “I may not have done my homework, but I liked a tweet so I retweeted it, don’t hassle me later” disclaimer.
And today, I’m going to tell you why I think we’re all wrong to do this. Especially now in an age of online information operations and fake news.
Think about the last time you shared something on Facebook or Twitter. What was your primary motivation for doing so?
Perhaps it was because you learned about some news or current events that you felt others should know about. Perhaps it was because you saw a cute video or picture that you thought other people would like to see too. Perhaps it was because you saw a pithy quote or saying that you felt really described the way you were feeling in that moment, and you wanted to convey that feeling to other people in your network.
So, in the news last week, it turns out Facebook behaved like many other large and not particularly ethical companies. Sheryl Sandberg is implicated in the hiring of a right-wing PR firm known for it’s “black ops” style engagement. This firm created messages suggesting that anti-Facebook activists had ties to George Soros (a known Republic dog whistle tactic). It has also been suggested that Sandberg wanted to suppress information about Russian election meddling (even the information which originated from Facebook’s own security people. All this and more is detailed in a recent New York Times article that commentators are saying shocked, and I mean, SHOCKED!the world.
I have spent the bulk of my week at a fantastic academic and policy related conference that brings together scientists and leaders from a wide variety of fields. What’s really been great about this experience is it’s commitment to engaging with a variety of disciplines. We’re not just seeing health scientists, researchers from STEM fields, or social scientists and humanities scholars, but truly a variety of perspectives from across the research spectrum. Another strength of this conference, which I realize now has not been part of my general conference experience is I’ve noticed a real effort to balance gender representation on the panels. Most of the panels I have attended have either had equal numbers of men and women present, or had greater numbers of women and men, reflecting their attendee balance, which identifies as about 60% women.
According to recent research at the Social Media Lab in Toronto, Canada, Canadians are somewhat comfortable with academic researchers accessing their social media data. 56% of Canadians indicate that they are ok with their data being used for academic research purposes. In contrast, only 34% of Canadians feel comfortable with marketers accessing their social media data, but this discomfort is unfortunately at odds with the way social media companies make money, meaning every day Canadians are exposing themselves to the groups which they don’t really (when asked) want to access their data.
Yes, it’s true, Facebook has been implicated in some incredible abuses of power. From Cambridge Analytica to Facebook’s role in the uprisings in Myanmar, to censorship in China and beyond, Facebook has some ‘splaining to do. And consumers (FB users) should just “vote with their feet” and leave the platform once and for all or Facebook will never be held accountable.
I agree with most of the #QuitFacebook arguments. And also, I don’t agree that everyone can just stop using Facebook. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.