Why every social media site is a dumpster fire

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Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube exploit our tribalism to keep us watching ads. That makes them a perfect target for trolls, conspiracy theorists, and con artists.

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Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram are built to cater to the base preferences and desires of their users — figuring out what information people enjoy with and then showing them more of it. That’s a great way to keep people online, but it also makes these platforms prime target for con artists. People are naturally drawn to inflammatory and sensational news stories, regardless of whether or not they’re true. So bad actors — conspiracy theorists, trolls, and fake news writers — have been tremendously successful in using these platforms to spread false and divisive content that exploit people’s tribal instincts.

In 2016, it was Macedonian teens making thousands of dollars publishing inflammatory fake stories about Hillary Clinton. After the Parkland shooting, it was random YouTubers going viral by accusing students of being crisis actors. Even the Russian trolls who meddled in the presidential election did so by posting low-quality, highly emotional content to social media — content they knew would go viral.

The problem with these social media sites isn’t that a few bad apples are ruining the fun. It’s that they’re designed to reward bad apples. And as long as con artists can use these platforms to prey on people’s most base desires, social media sites will continue reflecting the worst of human nature back at us.

Read more of Jay Van Bevel’s work here: https://www.nyu.edu/about/news-publications/news/2018/june/jay-van-bavel-on-fake-news.html

On Strikethrough, Vox producer Carlos Maza explores the challenges facing the news media in the age of Trump. Follow Carlos on Facebook for more: https://www.facebook.com/CarlosMazaVox

Vox.com is a news website that helps you cut through the noise and understand what’s really driving the events in the headlines. Check out http://www.vox.com.

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