Social media’s danger of amplifying misinformation and negativity

We are in a dangerous distortion of society where the perception of equality and freedom of opinion seem to have merged.

The freedom to have and express an opinion is a cornerstone in our society, as well as in our freedom of speech. It is something that should be unbridled and protected.

But, not all opinions are developed or justified. Though it is not a requirement for them to be, the desire to hold all opinions as equal in weight of importance is becoming a major influence in the way social media is impacting our society both online and in reality.

In approaching the act of giving all opinions the same weight, we deprive ourselves of the voices of those who spend their lives mastering schools of thought or crafts, for the result that social media tears them apart with their teeth in the comment section. They feel their opinion is entitled to the same amount of attention or significance as a response to something that would exist entirely without their thinking of or commenting on it.

We see this in so many different spheres of our society: mass culture, politics, mass media or even areas of science such as climate change and, especially recently, epidemiology.

The idea that anyone can comment their opinion and it is held in the same recognition by other similar members of the public as the statements made by qualified and educated members of society, whether they be doctors, scientists or someone who studies the topic for a living, is detrimental to the overall purpose of having access to information. It is detrimental to our advance as a society. Where one does not need any justification or purpose behind an opinion for it to be “good,” we are lost in the masses.

The most threatening element of this perception is that it reaches everyone; it is not a class issue, nor of any other kind of social identity group. It is encroaching upon all of us as a society.

It is not just experienced in the social media realm either. As our ways of communicating and thinking have influenced social media and vice versa, it has made its way into our realities as something we are expected to encourage and not question the validity of. Criticism and personal opinions fly out of the mouths of everyone around us regardless of experiences and knowledge.

Social media culture promotes this facade to users that everyone’s opinions should be heard at all times, regardless of whether there is a more pressing concern or bigger picture to look at it—and it is in its nature, egocentric. Possibly, there is the idea that by granting all opinions the same power, we move towards a more egalitarian approach to society. But the debate here is not whether everyone should have the right to express an opinion, the debate is whether we should pay the same attention to the masses as to those who have education and experience to back their opinions.

Just within a single year, Pew Research Center showed that Americans, of both political parties, have seen the media increasingly gaining influence and over 64 percent of Americans say social media has a negative impact on the way things are going in America.

To answer the question of why this matters: social media impacts the perception of issues. Misinformation and bandwagon thinking not only exists but profit from this consideration of all opinions as equal. We lose the quality of information that would otherwise aid in the development of opinions because the voices of those who should be credited are out washed by the noise.