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Misinformation and Disinformation: Social Media

Information on misinformation and disinformation and methods to identify such sources.

How Social Media gets to know you

Ever notice how if you search for tacos on your computer or phone suddenly you see tacos everywhere you go online? Instagram shows photos of tantalizing taco platters, Facebook feeds you ads for taco restaurants, Pinterest suggests taco recipes, YouTube recommends videos of celebrities making tacos and Tik Tok sends you clips of people reacting to biting into a taco garnished with ghost peppers. 

Just how did all these sites know you were interested in tacos anyway?

Who tracks you and how do they do it

There are several ways that your online activity may be tracked:

  • Websites download cookies, or small bits of data, to your internet browsers which track your online activity. 
  • Your phone's GPS tracks your physical location.
  • Your internet service provider can see everything you do online. 
  • Many phone apps track your physical location, can download files, take photos and video, even read your text messages and call log. 

Fake News. It's Your Fault

Books on Social Media @ UA-PTC Libraries

Understanding Digital Tracking

What is done with this information?

Most tracking is done so that your online activity can be used for targeted advertising. That's the reason that you might suddenly see lots of ads for taco restaurants if you search for tacos.

These records of your online activity can also be used to influence the information that you see online. For example, if you searched the internet for information on COVID-19 for a research paper, you might suddenly see information about resources for COVID-19 patients in your social media feeds, even when you search for unrelated topics. 

Why should I care that I'm being tracked online?

Social media sites work to keep you engaged so they can sell advertising. To do this they will track what you are interested in and show you more things that are similar to what you have already searched. That may be fine for tacos and shoes, but what about false or harmful information? 

Internet searches on the topic of COVID-19 might turn up information that is both true and false. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference, especially with a topic like COVID-19 where the facts are changing quickly due to scientific experiments, medical breakthroughs and changes in the virus itself. When we are uncertain about what is true and false, we are more likely to pay attention to those sources that feed our confirmation bias

How to stop tracking on your computer

How to stop tracking on your phone


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Veronica Stewart
3000 West Scenic Drive
North Little Rock, AR 72118

Confirmation Bias

eBooks on Social Media @ UA-PTC Libraries

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