Link to full pdf: ZU Magazine Issue #3: Social Media (Fall 2020) 

Link to the digital version: ZU Magzine Issue #3: Social Media (Fall 2020)


Letter from the Editor: 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed … 

So began the account of a Martian invasion that left millions of Americans in a state of panic on the evening of Oct. 30, 1938. The invasion happened to be an hour-long radio play which, as the host noted in its opening, was based on Herbert George Wells’ fantasy novel “The War of the Worlds.” However, the format of the play resembled that of a typical evening broadcast. Individuals who missed the opening disclaimer were operating under the assumption that the news bulletins they heard were real. As a result, many were led to believe that Martians were actually marching across the countryside on steel legs that were a hundred feet high. 

A large number of people who mistook the play for a live broadcast did not attempt to verify the story they heard in any way, according to a Princeton survey. In 1940, George Orwell identified socio-economic unrest as the root of this pattern of behavior. At the time, mass unemployment in the wake of the Great Depression, economic anxiety and mounting war in Europe had the country on edge. People seemed eager to believe that the world was coming to an end or that the extraterrestrials were actually German troops invading the U.S. In his doctor’s note, Orwell referenced the “evident connection between personal unhappiness and readiness to believe the incredible.”

It so happens that we find ourselves in a similar scenario today. The pandemic has brought about a degree of “personal unhappiness” to everyone whose life it has impacted. The ongoing socio-economic unrest has seemingly resurrected the “readiness” with which people were willing to believe the unbelievable in the 1940s. Since then, the amount of misinformation that circulates in the media industry has exponentially grown. Yet, many still do not consider fact-checking a civic duty. Although the medium that delivers us our daily dose of the news has changed, Orwell’s diagnosis rings as true as it did back then: people are more susceptible to misinformation in times of socio-economic instability. 

This issue explores the dark caverns of social media: from the ways that algorithms determine what appears at the top of our news feeds to the consumer behavior that makes misinformation run rampant. The last decade has proven that misinformation is no longer an innocent form of entertainment. On the contrary, it has shown us that it has the power to determine the outcome of a presidential election and even cost a human being their life. 

Although the world relies on social media to facilitate human connection, we need to be aware of the way it can intentionally manipulate our beliefs. We urge our readers to utilize the tools that social media platforms offer users to inform themselves, recognize their own biases and to verify the information that they come across. If we understand where our own blind spots lie, we will not be as “ready” to accept unverified information as our truth. After all, false news stories only go viral if enough people click on them.

-Anna Savchenko