BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — The protests that turned violent at the U.S. Capitol Wednesday could have been partly fueled by misinformation on social media, according to University of Colorado Boulder professor Dr. Casey Fiesler.
Fiesler, a professor of information science, focuses on social media ethics and law. She says there’s evidence of the influence of “filter bubbles” in creating a widespread belief the 2020 election was fraudulent. She says social media platforms make it easy for people to only see information that aligns with their beliefs.
“You have a sense that you know so many people because you have so many interactions with strangers on forums like Facebook. You feel like you have this bigger sense of the world but you have still curated your social media feeds such that you’re only interacting with people who are like yourself,” said Fiesler.
In severe cases, she says that could lead to becoming radicalized.
Social media platforms took quick action against President Donald Trump following the chaos in Washington. Twitter froze the president’s account temporarily and removed several tweets, citing rule violations. Facebook and Instagram blocked his accounts indefinitely.
Twitter has flagged the president’s tweets about alleged election fraud for months, saying the claims are disputed. Fiesler says those warnings won’t stop the spread of misinformation.
“When Twitter flags something for misinformation, that doesn’t make a lot of people think it’s false. And that’s the problem,” said Fiesler, “when you see a piece of information that confirms what you already believe, you’re going to believe it’s true.”
Fiesler says social media platforms have their own terms of service and rules that users have to abide by. Those platforms can remove content for violating those terms if they choose. However, she says some may choose to leave certain posts up even when they violate the rules if the post is of interest to the general public. Fiesler says a tweet from the president could be an example of this exception.
Fiesler believes an effective way to stop the spread of misinformation is to limit the ability for people to share it — that could include disabling retweets on content considered dangerous or false.
“At some point, it becomes a matter of principal and values. What are you going to allow your platform to be a part of?” said Fiesler.