Social networks connect the world and allow for some amazing technological feats to be thought of and carried out. In 2009 DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) offered $40,000 to anyone who could find ten tethered, red weather balloons spread out across the U.S. With the aid of social networks, a team at MIT was able to find every balloon in less than nine hours! This was an amazing way to use social media. While many other examples of Facebook, Twitter, etc. being used for the good of mankind exist, there are just as many, if not more ways that social media and user-based online news sites have screwed a lot of people over.
On Wednesday, April 24th, the Associated Press tweeted, “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured”. Almost immediately, the Dow Jones dropped a whopping one hundred points. Twitter and Facebook filled up with retweets and status wishing America the best and some even going as far as to say ‘RIP’ to the current president. It turns out (obviously) that the Associated Press’s twitter account was hacked, possibly by the Syrian Electronic Army. The fact that a few characters of text on ONE account on ONE social media site can change our economy and send the nation into fear is a terrifying thought – one that is scarier than an actual attack. What would it take for our country to fall into a panic? A few tweets and a Facebook post?
With this new era of social networks and online news sources comes the need for a new brand of caution regarding the internet. Sometimes news must be researched to find out its validity. This is just a price we pay for global connectivity. Some websites, like The Onion, create fake news stories on purpose as satire. Many of these articles have been posted and shared on sites like Facebook by users who believe them to be real news stories. While fake news is entertaining and often too crazy to be thought of as real, sites like The Onion have to be careful with their power, and realize that not everyone understands satire. Wildfire spreads easily, especially in the form of news on the internet. Its delivery and validity are key to inciting panic or sharing a few laughs.