In the early days of social media use, it was hoped that it would contribute to the democratization of information, says communications researcher Theo Hogg. In the meantime, you have to be careful not to manipulate them too much.
ORF Vorarlberg: Professor Hug, The Club of Rome wrote in his latest report that one of our biggest problems at the moment is our inability to distinguish between fact and fiction. And social media is to blame. Do you share this opinion?
Hug: On that one side, I can’t share the opinion. It depends on whether we start with a narrow or broad concept of social media, whether we are talking about aufstehn.at, Wikipedia or Facebook and WhatsApp. This all makes a huge difference, as can be seen here in the distribution of responsibility in dealing with fact and fiction.
ORF Vorarlberg: Let’s stay with Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and TikTok, which are also used the most. You told me that you see a growing ignorance of the truth and lies among your users. Where does this ignorance come from?
Hug: On the one hand, there is such ignorance and on the other hand, there is such a thing as a longing to know what reality really is. However, there seem to be signs of fatigue here. If you ask where that comes from, on the one hand, we have the main political contexts. Think about OTP’s economic duties and corruption. They are not unemployed, and they have a lot to do these days. In this regard, the question: How do truth and lies enter? Why is there a certain ignorance of these differences? Then the sources here are diverse and certainly have a political context. They have a context related to communication in general and a relatively relaxed approach to facts and facts, which can be seen all over the place.
ORF Vorarlberg: Could it be that confidence in the quality of traditional media is declining?
Hug: Yes, somewhat. Credibility and trust is a topic also related to media quality and there is also stagnation here, you should definitely keep an eye on that. On the other hand, when we talk about so-called social media, we also have an accompanying suggestion of non-profit status or help, which is nonetheless misleading. So-called social media is usually not oriented towards the common good and the much-cited discourse on the wisdom of the many, “the wisdom of the public,” is one side of the matter. On the other hand, there is also the “crowd frenzy” of group bullshit, group delusions and bias that come into play. And sometimes bias is also accused of media quality. This is a task that always needs criticism, review and enlightenment.
ORF Vorarlberg: First climate change deniers, then pandemic side thinkers. Many of them get the so-called alternative facts from alternative sources, i.e. from said social media. The result is demonstrations as well as polarization in society. However, current challenges require social cohesion. Do we also risk becoming powerless via social media?
Hug: In my opinion, that would be a very powerful announcement. In such cases, the question is always which one is meant specifically? What groups, what circles, and what are the dynamics of non-solidarity at play here in globally interconnected media and cultural contexts? I don’t see that we all would be unable to work together.
ORF Vorarlberg: What should or should be done so that people in social media can know right and wrong?
Hugs: There is a need for educational offerings that are appropriate for all ages and all ages. Forms of media education that are compatible with developing critical media competence. Creative ways of thinking and knowing are also needed. Freedom is also required for aimless education and not to reduce education to qualifications or measurable competencies alone. The second approach is about education, about connections, about dependencies and how they can be overcome as well. And last but not least, it also requires a clear awareness of the regulations. It is unacceptable that responsibility remains only with individuals or in schools, for example with teachers. Appropriate framework conditions, appropriate financing structures and, at the organizational level, a certain definition of unlimited digital capitalism are needed.