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How to Fix the Internet: Moving Beyond the Problems of Social Media Platforms

How to Fix the Internet: Moving Beyond the Problems of Social Media Platforms
Image Credit - Big Think

The internet has revolutionized the way we live, work, and connect with each other. It has given us access to information and opportunities that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. However, the internet is also facing a number of challenges, such as the spread of misinformation, the decline of local news, and the increasing polarization of society.

These challenges are often attributed to the rise of social media platforms. Social media platforms have become the primary way for many people to consume news and information. However, these platforms are often designed to be addictive and to keep users engaged for as long as possible. This can lead to the spread of misinformation, as false stories are often more likely to be shared and clicked on than accurate ones.

The Decline of Local News

Social media platforms can also contribute to the decline of local news. Local news organizations have been hit hard by the decline of print advertising revenue. As more and more people get their news from social media, local news organizations are losing advertising revenue and struggling to stay afloat. This is a serious problem, as local news organizations play an important role in holding local governments and businesses accountable.

According to a 2018 study by the University of North Carolina, the United States has lost almost 1,800 local newspapers since 2004. This decline in local news coverage has been linked to a number of negative outcomes, including decreased civic engagement, increased government corruption, and reduced accountability for local officials.

The loss of local news is not just a problem in the United States. A 2019 report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism found that the number of local newspapers in the United Kingdom has fallen by more than half since 2005. The report also found that the remaining local newspapers are increasingly reliant on content from national news organizations, which can lead to a lack of coverage of local issues.

The Polarization of Society

In addition, social media platforms can contribute to the increasing polarization of society. Social media algorithms tend to show users content that they are already interested in, which can create echo chambers where people are only exposed to information that confirms their existing beliefs. This can make it difficult for people to have civil conversations about important issues.

A 2020 study by the Pew Research Center found that Americans who get their news primarily from social media are more likely to have inaccurate beliefs about current events than those who get their news from other sources. The study also found that social media users are more likely to be exposed to conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation.

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The polarization of society is not just a problem in the United States. A 2018 report by the European Commission found that social media platforms are contributing to the spread of disinformation and the polarization of public opinion in Europe. The report called for social media companies to take more responsibility for the content on their platforms and to work with governments and civil society organizations to address these challenges.

How to Fix the Internet: Moving Beyond the Problems of Social Media Platforms
Image Credit – LinkedIn

Supporting Independent Journalism

So, how can we fix the internet? There is no easy answer, but there are a number of things that we can do. One of the most important is to support independent journalism. Local news organizations are essential for a healthy democracy. We can support local news organizations by subscribing to their publications, donating money, and sharing their stories on social media.

There are also a number of organizations that are working to support independent journalism. The Knight Foundation, for example, is a nonprofit organization that invests in journalism and media innovation. The organization has funded a number of projects aimed at supporting local news, including the Local News Lab, which works to develop new business models for local journalism.

Another organization that is working to support independent journalism is the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ is a network of journalists from around the world who collaborate on investigative reporting projects. The organization has been responsible for a number of high-profile investigations, including the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, which exposed the use of offshore tax havens by wealthy individuals and corporations.

Being Critical of Online Information

Another important step in fixing the internet is to be critical of the information we see online. Not everything we read or see on the internet is true, and it is important to verify the accuracy of information before sharing it with others. This can be challenging, as misinformation can often be disguised as legitimate news or information.

One way to verify the accuracy of information is to check the source. Is the information coming from a reputable news organization or website? Is the author an expert in the field they are writing about? It is also important to look for other sources that corroborate the information. If multiple reputable sources are reporting the same information, it is more likely to be accurate.

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Another way to be critical of online information is to be aware of our own biases. We all have biases that can influence the way we interpret information. It is important to recognize these biases and to seek out information from a variety of sources, even if they challenge our existing beliefs.

Having Diverse Conversations

In addition to being critical of online information, it is important to have conversations with people who have different viewpoints than our own. This can be challenging, especially in today’s polarized political climate, but it is essential for a healthy democracy.

One way to have diverse conversations is to seek out people with different backgrounds and experiences than our own. This can be done through social media, but it is also important to have in-person conversations with people in our communities. Attending community events, joining local organizations, and volunteering are all ways to meet people with different perspectives.

It is also important to approach these conversations with an open mind and a willingness to listen. We may not always agree with the other person’s perspective, but it is important to try to understand where they are coming from. By having respectful conversations with people who have different viewpoints, we can learn from each other and find common ground.

Demanding More from Social Media Platforms

Social media platforms have a responsibility to address the challenges facing the internet. We can demand that these platforms take steps to reduce the spread of misinformation, promote civil discourse, and support local news organizations.

One way social media platforms can reduce the spread of misinformation is by using fact-checking systems to identify and label false information. Facebook, for example, has partnered with independent fact-checkers to review content and apply warning labels to posts that contain false information. However, these efforts have been criticized as insufficient, and many argue that social media platforms need to do more to address the problem of misinformation.

Social media platforms can also promote civil discourse by designing their algorithms to prioritize constructive conversations over divisive ones. Twitter, for example, has experimented with using machine learning to identify and downrank tweets that are likely to lead to unproductive arguments. However, these efforts are still in the early stages, and more research is needed to understand how social media platforms can effectively promote civil discourse.

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Finally, social media platforms can support local news organizations by providing them with tools and resources to reach their audiences. Facebook, for example, has launched a program called the Facebook Journalism Project, which provides training and support for local news organizations. However, these efforts have been criticized as insufficient, and many argue that social media platforms need to do more to support local journalism.

Exploring Decentralized Alternatives

The internet does not have to be dominated by a few large companies. There are a number of decentralized alternatives to traditional social media platforms that are designed to be more user-friendly and less addictive.

One example of a decentralized social media platform is Mastodon. Mastodon is an open-source platform that allows users to create their own communities, called “instances,” which are interconnected with other instances. This decentralized structure makes it more difficult for a single entity to control the platform or censor content.

Another example of a decentralized platform is the InterPlanetary File System (IPFS). IPFS is a distributed file storage system that allows users to store and share files without relying on centralized servers. This makes it more resistant to censorship and provides users with more control over their data.

While these decentralized alternatives are still in the early stages of development, they offer a glimpse of what the future of the internet could look like. By exploring these alternatives and supporting their development, we can help to create a more open, transparent, and user-friendly internet.

Conclusion

The challenges facing the internet are complex and multifaceted, but they are not insurmountable. By supporting independent journalism, being critical of online information, having diverse conversations, demanding more from social media platforms, and exploring decentralized alternatives, we can work together to create a better internet for everyone.

It is important to remember that the internet is a reflection of our society. The challenges we face online are often the same challenges we face offline. By working to address these challenges in all aspects of our lives, we can create a more just, equitable, and democratic world, both online and off.

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About the author

Ade Blessing

Ade Blessing is a professional content writer. As a writer, he specializes in translating complex technical details into simple, engaging prose for end-user and developer documentation. His ability to break down intricate concepts and processes into easy-to-grasp narratives quickly set him apart.

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