Disinformation experiment critiqued for unethical methodology

Recently, BBC News reporter Marianna Spring faced some controversy as her social media disinformation experiment came to light. For her research, she created five social media accounts for five fake Americans with different hypothetical political views and personalities to see what kind of disinformation may come across their feed.

While I believe that this approach is an effective way to find out how much disinformation is being spread, others disagree. Bob Steele, a retired expert on ethics for the Poynter Institute, believes that Spring violated ethics with the use of fake identities.

I can understand the questionable irony of using fake accounts in order to expose fake information on social media, but I don’t believe the lack of ethics in this experiment trump the lack of ethics in sharing disinformation.

In this era of internet dominance, a lot of people are going to social media to keep up with the news. According to Pew Research Center, 42% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 often get their news from social media while 28% use news websites or apps, another 28% search online and 12% use podcasts.

According to Spring’s findings so far, most of it is political and Republican-aligned misinformation. One of Spring’s fake identities, who identifies as an anti-vax Republican, was sent material claiming that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Any of us who know who our current president is would be able to identify this as false information.

The larger issue becomes obvious when we consider this finding and the fact that America rests in the hands of the young adult population. If young adults are getting most of our news from social media and it is filled with false information, that can jeopardize the future of our country. No one will be able to separate the truth from the propaganda, and this is true for both political parties.

I admit, as a young adult who votes, I too get most of my news from social media. I try to make sure I follow trustworthy sources like The New York Times on Twitter, but it can be easy for disinformation to sneak its way into my feed. I know there have been times I have been scrolling on Instagram and there was a small pop-up box at the bottom of a post alerting me that the information may be false.

Social media platforms are trying to fight against this plague of disinformation, but it is hard to fight against something when you don’t know how often it happens. I’m sure Spring’s experiment is ruined now because of the publicity, but if it still manages to go on, I certainly hope she finds some answers. I also personally find her experiment a little fun as someone who enjoys writing stories, because she’s pretty much writing stories through social media platforms about five unique individuals.

People can claim that she is violating ethics by posing as these different people, but those who spread disinformation are the true violators.



Photo courtesy of Tracy LeBlanc, Pexels.