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Thursday, 9 March 2017

Of Memory and Forgetting: How Facebook is Warping Human Recollection


Memory is a notoriously imperfect thing, open to suggestion, amendment and distortion over time - however, experts worry that social media is exacerbating this problem by blurring the line between individual and collective recollection. Given human understanding of history shapes human thinking about the future, the results could be catastrophic.

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers note that while history has oft been interpreted and misrepresented for political ends, social networks are proving a powerful tool for shaping memory, and users need little prompting to conform to a majority recollection of an event, even if it is wholly erroneous.

"Memories are shared among groups in novel ways through sites such as Facebook and Instagram, blurring the line between individual and collective memories. The development of internet-based misinformation, such as recently well-publicized fake news sites, has the potential to distort individual and collective memories in disturbing ways," said Professor Daniel Schacter, a memory psychologist at Harvard University.

The study cites claims of terror attacks in Sweden by President Donald Trump as a key example.

While purely fictitious, the story spread like wildfire on social media, and the study suggests some may still believe such a strike did occur, despite the claim's quick debunking. Moreover, the fantastical attacks had real-world consequences, being used to justify a travel ban on the citizens of seven countries.

Communication undoubtedly has a significant effect on memory. Research has previously demonstrated that people conversing about the past can reinforce aspects of an event by selectively repeating them, and expurgate aspects by de-emphasizing or ignoring them.

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