Can we the internet users trust our social media anymore?
Social Media And Our Trust In this modern world, it is indeed hard for people to imagine living without a phone or a computer which allows us to access the internet where we can acquire up to date information and achieve efficient communication. Social media is one of the most flourishing places where people can interact with others by both sharing and absorbing information online.
The reliance on social media also creates an unprecedented intimacy between humans and the internet.
A large number of people prefer to acquire information through online sources instead of traditional media such as TV and newspaper. However, it also leads to the problem of misinformation and fake news that is widely spread on social media. The emergence of self-media, which refers to “independently operated social media accounts” in China where almost everyone is able to publish and share their ideas on social platforms, even further intensifies the amount of deceitful texts.
Wechat is one of the largest and most widely used social media in China owned by Tencent. Until 2019, daily active users of Wechat had reached over one billion. It was first used as the messaging app, but it gradually transformed into a tool where you can do almost anything such as social networking, paying for online payments, and booking rides.
Among these functions, Wechat has also become a platform for publishing journals and news as well as spreading personal ideas. Many self-media operate through Official Accounts (OAs), a unique feature of Wechat, to transmit information among Wechat users. Self-media is a low barrier-to entry medium for expressive and independent individuals or groups to share and publish their own opinions and information on social platforms. It is readily accessible because anyone can identify himself /herself as a self-media worker.
The content and focus of OAs range from daily news, film reviews, storytelling, advertisement to rumors of celebrities. Every user can find their interested topic and subscribe to these OAs. They can also comment and share articles posted by those OAs to their own social networks and thus others can also view them.
The process is so rapid that very often an article posted within 5 minutes can achieve thousands and millions of views.
Despite its advantage as being a medium which provides convenient and free access to abundant information, Wechat has also become a place crammed with misinformation and fake news. Since the information is so immense, it is impossible to regulate every piece of it.
Much information has already been widely circulated before it is deleted. As a result, driven by profit or even some anti-social purposes, many people begin to deliberately concocted information that targets the hotspot issues in society and exaggerates the extent of truth so as to intrigue readers and to create social outbreaks.
Storytelling has become one of the most popular ways for official accounts to consume viewers.
Instead of reading boring news and complicated concepts, the audiences can easily select and enjoy anecdotes that are more straightforward and interesting to read. These OAs post stories which they claim are based on “true experience” excerpted from their friends, co-workers or their own. The ultimate goal is to convey certain ideas and reality that target interested parties. However, these ideas can be very dangerous and misleading.
Due to its nature, the information conveyed by self-media can be biased and deceitful.
Successful writers are able to utilize distinct tactics to competently manipulate their reader to buy their stories. An article named “The Death of a Top Scorer from a Poor Family ” posted by a Wechat official account, talented Limited Youth, had gained huge attention and raised controversy on the internet.
The account is registered under a “big V” self-media in China, Mimeng. “Big V” refers to very important and influential person who normally has more than 1 million followers on social media. Mimeng, a distinguished “self-media” platform that has 13 million followers on Wechat, regularly posts blogs and podcasts about relationships between male and female, love, marriage, extramarital affairs and other popular topics. (Forrest) The article is very easy to understand and is based on the true experience of the author’s friend, Zhou, as suggested by herself. The central character as suggested by the author is “someone who really lived”. At the beginning of the article, the author wrote:
“On January 8, 2019, I received the news that Zhou Youchou, one of my high school classmates, passed away from gastric cancer. He died with 3,700.6 yuan in his bank account. But he was wearing a cheap $100 down jacket. He died four months short of his 25th birthday.”
By portraying the unfortunate and tragic death of his friends, the author successfully captured the curiosity of readers. She continues by recalling her friend’s story back in high school. Saying that although Zhou was born poor, he was talented, self-disciplined and conscientious. In one of the episodes of the story, the teacher asked them to write down their dreams. The dream’s written by most students are passionate and ambitious, while only Zhou wrote “make money and be a good person”. When Zhou graduated, he tried many different jobs as a financial accountant.
Unlike the author, he refused all temptation and shortcuts to make quick. But “dirty” money but dedicated to his work in order to support his sister’s college tuition. On the contrary, as the author herself entered the society, she soon forgot her childhood dreams and motivation and became the least kind of person she wanted — tactful and flattering. At the end of the article, inspired by the story of Zhou, the author reflected upon herself and society.
The entire article develops through the idea of “dream”.
Zhou is the only person who truly tries his best to pursue his dream. Even though his dream is not aspiring enough. The author and many others have already lost their dream along the path.
In a few minutes the article had thousands of views. Many people somehow resonated with the depressing story either by connecting with the narrator or his friend.
In order to convince the readers into believing and connected with the story, the author does much research on hot industry topics so that she seems to be able to speak the right language. Firstly, she also adds photos and notes that relate to the story at the end to make it more authentic. Secondly, she even understands the confusion and self-doubt felt by young people when they step out into society from school. Thirdly, she understood our preference for detail, tragedy, and reflection. As a result, the author is effective at capturing the audience’s expectation and thoughts to form connections between the readers and the stories.
But it turns out that the author is only a 22 years-old intern at Mimeng’s group. She has no experience in any career related to investment. The story is thus entirely of fabrication. Different from nonfiction writing, the articles written by this author are deliberately confusing readers, combining facts and lies to create anxiety, panic or even satisfaction among the crowd. Moreover, the way she constructed the story in order to manipulate the readers psychologically was very intentional and worth exploring.
The author attempted to reconstruct a flat and polarized social hierarchy from the perspective of a fake insider. Zhou, the narrator’s friend, represents those individuals who are talented, hardworking, self-disciplined and focused. Instead, the narrator stands for the opposite group. Who are self-oriented, fulsome and always drift along with no goals. There is no third party mentioned in the article.
When audiences are reading the story. Their judgements and thoughts will be limited by believing that society consists solely of these two types of people.
It thus forms a cognitive bias called Anchoring that “describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions” (Program on Negotiation). When readers are reading the story, they are inclined to depict the characters as what the author first described and ignore other possible alternatives afterwards. Also, as they are reading, they will intemperate the information based on the impression they had already formed.
For example, at the beginning of the article. The author describes the cheap clothes Zhou wore and the scarce money that was left in his bank account. It thus leads the readers to think Zhou is very pathetic which makes the reader feel compassionate about Zhou. When the readers are reading the article, they will read most information about Zhou with sympathy and therefore consider him to be a good person.
What is more, the author also establishes a distinct contrast between two groups. One group is which we identify as the ideal while the other is less desirable. Through the comparison, the author criticizes the group who abandon their dreams for money and social status. She successfully targeted the current issues and problems faced by the young generation.
Readers were misled to blindly believe that only one side is expected by society. Which made them feel anxious about themselves. Nonetheless, human beings are a complex entity that everyone may have a side of persistence but also have a side of weakness.
We need to consider thoroughly on such an issue: Is it necessarily a contradiction between pursuing a job. That meets your material needs and fulfilling your self-worth?
According to the usage statistics of Wechat, 88% of users have a college or higher degree. It suggests that the educational attainment of users is positively related to the usage of Wechat. Consequently, only in a few minutes, the article became reported. As spreading misinformation by many users pointing out the untrue details from the article. People were furious and disappointed as they discovered the truth.
Social media has become the best channel for both educated and less educated people to gather information about almost everything they already have formed a tight bond and affinity with the social media. The reason behind such disappointment implies the deterioration of trust between the readers and the authors, as well as such intimacy between people and social media.
Social Media And Our Trust Written by
“Anchoring Effect.” PON, www.pon.harvard.edu/tag/anchoring-effect/.
Adam Forrest @adamtomforrest. “Chinese Social Media Star Mimeng Closes Account with 14 Million Followers after Cancer Victim Post.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 22 Feb. 2019, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/mimeng-weibo-wechat account
Cjr. “How WeChat Became the Primary News Source in China.” Columbia Journalism Review, www.cjr.org/tow_center/how-wechat-became-primary-news-source-china.php. “WeChat Revenue and Usage Statistics (2019).” Business of Apps, 27 Feb. 2019, www.businessofapps.com/data/wechat-statistics/. Cjr. “How Misinformation Spreads on WeChat.” Columbia Journalism Review, www.cjr.org/tow_center/wechat-misinformation-china.php.