Andrew Conte’s Focus on Media: Social media require user responsibility |

Andrew Conte’s Focus on Media: Social media require user responsibility

Tribune-Review contributing writer Andrew Conte.

My 18-year-old son recently joined Facebook. Until now, he apparently believed only parents and grandparents use that social media platform, because we do.

But when he got accepted into college, the school suggested he log in to make friends before arriving on campus. We had a “face book” when I arrived at college too, but it literally had pages of my classmates’ photographs with biographical information underneath.

No doubt social media have forever changed the way we communicate. Birthdays now mean that people from across the years and around the globe can check in with greetings. Social scientists used to geek out over the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon,” but now it’s a common curiosity to discover otherwise unrelated friends in our feeds who already know each other. Worlds are colliding, as “Seinfeld’s” George Costanza would say.

Social media can be entertaining but come with consequences. Connectivity brings many dividends but also changes the landscape dramatically, Zaid Hassan argues in his book “The Social Labs Revolution.” If our problems grow exponentially while our understanding emerges linearly, collapse becomes a mathematical certainty, to paraphrase him.

We are encountering something like that on Facebook and other social media platforms: Our understanding of these communications links hasn’t evolved as quickly as their uses — for better and for worse.

Consider the unsealed indictments from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia investigation. He accused 13 Russians and three Russian organizations of meddling in the U.S. presidential election and using social media to divide Americans and cause uncertainty.

They allegedly stole identities of real Americans and used them to create hundreds of social-media accounts and fake affinity groups designed to confuse and sway voters. And it worked.

Even people close to the president, including his son, had retweeted posts from a fake Russian-backed Twitter account, @TEN_GOP, which attracted more than 100,000 followers.

In this digital age, it’s not even enough to employ President Reagan’s Cold War saw: “Trust, but verify.” There are few ways to easily check the true identity of who owns a Facebook account or Twitter handle.

Social-media users can employ common sense: Trust people you know in the real world, and not just online. Repost something if you know it’s accurate, and not just because it reinforces your worldview. If a posting seems too strange to be true, it might be.

Americans must rethink their relationship with the news too. We have come to a point where many people put more faith in unverified information on social media — because it squares with their personal beliefs — than in trusting hard-working journalists who often challenge the opinions we hold. That has to change.

Engaging on social media requires responsibility. These platforms might seem like all fun, but they have real-world impacts that can cause negative results. To catch up with reality, social-media users must get serious.

Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.