How social media exacerbates the racial divide

Representatives from Facebook, Google and Twitter are testifying before Congress this week about propaganda on their networks. Misinformation on social media has been aimed at creating division and unrest, especially around race. And as Facebook’s general counsel said on Tuesday, that’s still happening. For instance, fake Facebook accounts created by Russian operatives encouraged violence against Black Lives Matter protesters. Another one called Blacktivist suggested violence and protests against police.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor of communication at Loyola University. Marketplace Tech host Molly Wood talked with her about how online propaganda influences our real-life interactions and how much responsibility social media companies should bear. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Molly Wood: Do you think these accounts were used to exacerbate racial tensions? Do you think that’s the case, and did it work?

Karsonya Wise Whitehead: I think that is the case. I mean we’re at a moment in time when racial tensions have been heightened for the past year. And I think that anything you add in to stir up the pot, to keep people upset, to further divide people, it’s going to be pretty successful at this moment in time.

Wood: And then what about trust in social media? One of the fake accounts that’s used as a big example was essentially sort of a Black Lives Matter account that was not real, but had more followers than the actual Black Lives Matter page. How does it affect trust when you think that you’re gathering in this online community with people that you want to talk to and then you find out they’re not real?

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