Though there may be tools that limit data tracking and mandatory disclosures for targeted ads, it’s not as easy to spot filtered news that’s customized to your data. The personalized news that you see has had persistent problems with algorithmic and confirmation bias, ultimately increasing disinformation and polarization because you’re being exposed to news that’s favorable to your beliefs rather than news that will expand your outlook.
Big tech companies are finally giving serious attention to these issues. Facebook, wary of government intervention, recently published a post about their privacy efforts and Twitter announced their plans to become a more credible news source, but individual users still bear the responsibility for seeking out authoritative and truthful news sources and diverse voices. But in the same way you have to be wary of fake news, you have to read in between the lines of corporate statements.
For example, Facebook’s statement promises the company will protect user data, but nowhere does the company acknowledge why they’re collecting data in the first place. Facebook is often quick to say they don’t sell your information, but their only response to questions about why they collect it is in order to make their own services better—which is supposedly in your interest, but not explicitly in your control, even if you choose not to use it.
Rajul Punjabi, an educator and senior editor at Mic, a culture and politics outlet, advises that you can also see if these statements match the company’s intentions by looking at what politicians and organizations they fund. Sites like OpenSecrets and Goods Unite Us often reveal that lawmakers are either on the payroll of, do consulting work for, or are politically supported by these same large companies. This frequently leads to ineffectual privacy legislation or well-meaning statements from political leaders that may not do much to address real privacy issues.
According to Mark Weinstein, the Founder of MeWe, a social platform that allows you to connect with others while still protecting your privacy, “a well-intentioned legislation is ineffective against these giants. People of the world will have to move away from these companies and support businesses that protect their privacy.”
The news ecosystem has also changed. In order for publications to succeed, they often have to write dramatic headlines to compete with viral fake news. When it comes to vetting news sources, you can spot what’s credible by verifying the topic across a variety of sources, researching the outlet’s expertise, and checking the web address to make sure you’re reading the site you think you’re reading. Or, if you want to get news directly from the source, you can subscribe to the newsletters of noteworthy journalists if they have one, or follow them on social media for links to their stories and additional commentary.
From the subconscious impacts of fake news to the physical pressures of social media, you’re not as in control of your thoughts as you might think. As the documentary The Social Dilemma pointed out, social apps are designed to keep you coming back, sharing content, and refreshing to see more, even when you think you want to put the phone down and ignore it. As you become more aware of how these platforms are designed to keep you locked in, you can have more control over the time you spend on them.