Virginia Tech Researcher Says Social Media Fake News Is Changing The Way We Think | Community Idea Stations

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Virginia Tech Researcher Says Social Media Fake News Is Changing The Way We Think

With President Donald Trump set to expand his social media team this week, a Virginia Tech researcher says social media fake news is undermining individual beliefs and understanding in this country. 

Donald Trump is not the first to use social media. Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton had large staffs do it. But Trump has taken it to another level.

“He acts like a normal person on thestreet who has something to say to everybody,” said Tech’s Mark Orr. “It puts people in the mindset that they are hearing something from someone who is just like them.”

Mark Orr is a researcher in the Biocomplexity Institute at Tech, and a recipient of a one million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to study how we process information from the social media.

“The reality is, what we are interested in, it’s kind of like fake news, but one of the oldest fake news we have is advertising, we’ve had forever. So I think the idea that entities, industries, actors can influence others has been around forever as part of being human. Social media allows it to scale rapidly.”

Orr Says the effect of fake news is complicated from a cognitive perspective, and Trump is using Twitter to connect with voters in ways most politicians never envisioned.

“It’s like, what is your uncle saying today. What is your old uncle saying today? And it’s kind of the flavor that Donald Trump is giving the general public.”

He says Trump's use of social media is unprecedented and unsettling but most likely instructive for friend and foe.

“If you’re interested in countering some of the policy measures, it would be useful to forget about right and wrong,and think about how he thinks and how does his team think.”

Mark Orr says scientists are just beginning to develop means of testing just how effective social media content is at radically changing our way of thinking.