Trial by social media
In the legal system, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. When someone is swept up in social media outrage, they are afforded no such luxury.
As news broke about the Las Vegas shooting, misinformation ricocheted across social media. There were claims of multiple gunmen, allegations that the shooter was an anti-Trump “antifa” activist, or an alt-right terrorist. There was even a claim that suggested the local sheriff was involved in a coverup to protect casino owners. The outpouring of outrage online had created a fertile environment for misinformation.
Outrage sparks social media engagement. A post that generates outrage is much more likely to be shared than one which plays on other human emotions. Bloggers and advertisers know this. They know that if they can generate a ‘clickbait’ article that sparks sufficient outrage, they will draw engagement and get clicks, which they can turn into advertising revenue. Unscrupulous companies and individuals, therefore, publish false information designed to outrage, knowing that it will earn them a tidy sum of revenue. In this way, social media outrage becomes a dangerous network through which misinformation prospers. This can often have disastrous consequences. In 2016, a conspiracy theory gained traction on social media that suggested senior members of the Democratic party were involved in a child sex ring being run out of Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria based in Washington D.C. The theory prompted outrage and quickly spread across 4chan, 8chan, Reddit and Twitter. This prompted a man from North Carolina to travel to the restaurant with a rifle, determined to uncover a paedophile, human trafficking organisation. The man fired the weapon inside the crowded pizza restaurant. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. But the case illustrated the danger of misinformation and social media outrage online.
While it is undeniable that misinformation is detrimental to our society, the issue is not with social media outrage but with the advertising models employed by social media outlets. Currently, websites are able to earn revenue for every visitor they get to their site, regardless of the veracity of the information displayed on that site. If the responsibility was on advertisers to ensure that only sites with verifiable information were able to be monetised, then social media platforms would not be awash with misinformation. Similarly, social media platforms could have the responsibility of ensuring misinformation is kept off their platforms. It is possible to remove the misinformation from social media outrage, leaving only the benefits of the process without any of the drawbacks. Therefore, social media outrage itself is not detrimental to society.
[P1] Social media outrage allows misinformation to flourish. [P2] Misinformation is detrimental to society. [P3] Therefore, social media outrage is detrimental to our society.
[Rejecting P3] It is possible to remove misinformation from social media outrage. Therefore, social media outrage itself is not detrimental to society, existing advertising models are.