Of Fake News and Conspiracy Theories

When the General Manager of Coke asks you to “get to know your Coca-Cola”, a healthy dose of scepticism might not be amiss. But in a highly enlightening and entertaining session, Sameeer Pathak addressed the participants of GL Summit 2017 on the topic of truth in the age of social media, based on an article by Katharine Viner for The Guardian.

He spoke about how social media has become a very valuable tool for disseminating all kinds of information, and as the recent US Elections have shown, false information seems to form a surprisingly large part of it. The line between fact and rumour has never been blurrier, and Mr. Pathak demonstrated this by debunking the various conspiracy theories about Coke that have been shared on various social media – and while the educated individual would generally scoff at unproven myths and conspiracy theories, Mr. Pathak proved that even we students, despite having finished two levels of education, can fall prey to such “nonsense”.

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Why do we do this? Such “facts” essentially confirm our biases and prejudices, and this is an aspect which is preyed on by social media. Social media works to create a bubble of like-minded opinions which serve to confirm your biases but never question them, therefore never giving you the opportunity to think beyond your own tiny bubble. But we still question our opinions, right? Wrong. The information age has also created this sense of an information overload, plugging our mind with more information that it can retain. A lot of this information is mostly not relevant to us, and due to this overload, we just do not get the opportunity to look hard and deep at a particular issue. “Get of your comfort zone… look at the larger picture.”, said Mr. Pathak as he rattled out various scientific facts regarding Coca-Cola which served as the base for debunking the ‘myths’ about its use.

He proceeded to describe his own little theory, where he identified four types of communication: fact, opinion, fact-based opinion, and opinion cooked up as fact. The first two are fairly straightforward, but it is the latter two that are more troublesome, as this is where the two parties get significantly muddled up. Pictures on Facebook which masquerade as fact but are in fact opinions are shared too frequently, and it is up to us to stop the perpetration of such media because false information only serves to distract us by channeling emotions which are best left untouched.

– Shubhayan Sengupta



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