Private Social Media and False Knowledge

Private social media such as WhatsApp and Facebook Groups are increasingly being criticized for contributing to the propagation of false knowledge within communities. This is happening in communities around the world—impacting elections, ethnic conflict, measles outbreaks, and much more.

To be clear, false knowledge has existed since the beginning of civilization. What's new is the speed of diffusion of false knowledge due to technology such as search and social media.

Its mechanism for action seems to be to draw on a cognitive System 1 reaction, initially in the person who discovers something via search or social that “just feels so true” and shares it, then in the next person who lends support to it, and so on. It bypasses the cognitive System 2 abilities that might be available to each of those individuals or to the community as a whole—say, in deep expertise that might exist on a topic.

On a much smaller scale, this can happen within professional communities and companies with private social media like Slack. For example, we each have experienced the propagation of false knowledge in areas in which we have deeper expertise. And we may have accidentally contributed to it where we have lesser expertise. This knowledge could be about the customer, technology, internal policies, or some other function.

As a company grows, the experts on a topic finally run out of time and energy to correct false knowledge before it spreads on company social media. How do companies solve this problem as they scale?

Anecdotally, a couple of simple practices that seem to help:

  1. Having most channels limited to project teams in real life, i.e., communication that would naturally occur sitting together to achieve a specific goal.
  2. Having a few organization-wide channels for celebrating wins as a community, sharing life experiences, etc., rather than for diffusion of nuanced expertise or for making choices.


Editor's Note: This post was originally published on LinkedIn.

Vivek Mohta, Chief Business Officer
Vivek began his career as a mathematician and physicist. He has since held leadership roles in launching new organizations and products. He is passionate about inventing the future by bringing together great people.