Determining who is an authoritative figure worth amplifying is more challenging than ever. Curated, personalized feeds enable bespoke realities. Trump supporters trust Fox News or One America News Network, while liberals follow a very different set of trusted sources.
Why were social-media companies elevating the WHO and the CDC when some of their information turned out to be incorrect? And if agencies like these were wrong about COVID-19, what else were the so-called experts wrong about?
The world is on the cusp of another high-stakes information battle: the one that will take shape surrounding the drug treatments and vaccines developed for COVID-19 over the next year. The consensus of the most liked would have us believe that Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci are preparing to track us all by microchip; countering those narratives as they continue to take hold, mutating slightly to appeal to specific online subcultures, will not be easy.
Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube bear significant responsibility for the information environment for which they are hosts, curators, and amplifiers. But they can only do so much. If institutions and authority figures don’t adapt to the content and conversation dynamics of the day, other things will fill the void. The time for institutions and authorities to begin communicating transparently is before wild speculation goes viral. Preventing epidemics of misinformation from spreading is easier than curing them once they’ve taken hold.