Be skeptical of social media

Many of us innocently post items on Facebook about friends and family, likes and activities and, occasionally, politics. Those innocent posts represent a data trove about us.

Social media has become sort of an addiction for many Americans. Hours on end are spent clicking on Facebook items ranging from everything from country music to disparaging remarks about your most-liked (or least-liked) politicians.

There is an assumption that these items are being posted by people just like you. It is more than just a little bit troubling, then, when one finds out that many of those items are ads bought by a foreign government to influence an election.

Thursday, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released over 3,000 ads that Russians placed on Facebook in the months leading up to the 2016 election. According to USA Today’s study of the released ads, the subject matter ranged from immigration to race and critiques of both major presidential candidates.

The story said the Russians were savvy enough to use Facebook’s tools to find targeted audiences like those who identified themselves as gun lovers or backers of one candidate or another.

Facebook has promised to place new limits on such targeting and put more disclosure rules in place for political advertising. The social media company announced that the notion that another country can undermine a democratic election “violates its principles.”

We would remind readers that there is little on social media sites that would pass as actual news. Yes, if something is reposted from a legitimate news site, there is a better chance the item is based on actual facts.

But social media is made overwhelmingly by opinions. When a foreign adversary is trying to manipulate your election views based on what Facebook has told it are your likes and dislikes, a line has been crossed where our country is under attack.

So, be careful when using social media. Be especially careful when you are reading anything that even sniffs of politics. If you don’t recognize the source, be very skeptical of the content.

By the way, this editorial is an opinion — the publisher’s. The difference is we are identifying it as such.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.

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