Why is it that my mom keeps forwarding me conspiracy theories on whatsapp? : A look at the generational gap that makes “fake news” possible.
Most likely if you have an older family member who uses technology i.e. Social media, apps etc. I can certainly make a guess that you’ve received atleast a couple of those forwarded messages that seem so bogus. Whether it’s "plastic rice being made in China", or a warning that "the last days are coming in the next week, get ready for the plagues, it’s time to pray and fast", or something of a similar nature, you’re bound to be left a bit warned out.
I’ve been thinking about the reasons for such a reality. Why is it that people of an older generation are so easily prone to pass on news that can even on the surface level be recognized as bogus – maybe even absurd?
JUST A THOUGHT
While at the gym today, the thought crossed my mind. Is it possible that for our parents and grandparents, the way they process information is completely different? For them growing up, once something was on a screen, it was considered legitimate news in some sense. Most likely that baby boomer generation (generally considered those born within the years 1946-1964, roughly) grew up with probably a radio in the home as a major source of information. They had a radio or a TV with only so many station . And it effectively was their main source of information. News on a screen, most likely a television set, was seen as an authoritative news source. Just the mere fact that it appeared on the screen, made it authoritative.
WHAT IS NEWS AND WHAT IS NOT!
Is it possible that our parents and those of the generations before haven’t been able to fully make the distinction between rumor, jokes/memes, and legitimate news online? The internet is more so a millennial creation (born mid 1980s – 1990s), and is being refined and mastered by those of Generation Z (born mid-1990s – 2000s). On the other hand, policy is being enacted to limit its stretch by those of the Baby Boomer Generation (born 1946 – 1964), and in some cases those of Generation Y (born 1960s – early 1980s). Their views on information are altogether different.
Consider the reality. For the first half of the 20th century, television, in the US but also around the world, was limited to only a few stations. And those living in then communist states were even subjected to just one source of information – that which was state produced. It was only in 1980 that CNN was founded for example, and FOX News in 1996. The plethora of information sources which we are now flooded with is a relatively new phenomenon.
THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF THE MEDIA
Think about the following names: Facebook, Youtube, WhatApp, Instagram, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Starz, all of these either founded in or after 1995. Their founders were either of Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation.
The availability to choose your own content, contact others with ease, and transferring data with such frequency is an extremely new reality. It can be considered a relatively new phenomenon - a ‘democratized media’.
Now there are the very valid concerns of this being monopolized by Zuckerburg and his company Facebook, among others. Facebook owns Whatsapp, and Instagram, with Facebook’s news feed being one of the main sources for news in the present day. Facebook now effectively controls the traffic of what you see and when you see it. Can we be actually almost going back in reverse? To a time when our options were still monopolized by a few decision makers.
Mikhail E.D. Byng was born in Trinidad. He is the author of Off the Island and a graduate student at the University of Belgrade. He speaks Serbian and English.
Trinbagonian. Traveler. Believer in God. Believer in Creation. Life long Student. Sports enthusiast.