Legal and marketing executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google are appearing on Capitol Hill and being questioned by Senators about foreign meddling in our 2016 presidential election. The evidence that agents of the Russian government produced and purchased ads that then appeared on Facebook, Twitter, and Google, before, during, and after these elections is indisputable.

Facebook, Twitter, Google: Congress wants answers

However, even the 126M people that Facebook says may have been exposed to Russian propaganda is most likely an underestimate. The "knee-jerk" accounting that these social media giants produced, in order to appease Washington's cries for accountability, only takes in to account the direct "views" of its customers that they were able to calculate.

It doesn't consider the soft propaganda messages and posts, that subliminally reached more people. It is these more subtle "fake news" threads that sometimes produce divisive sentiment that then spread like wildfire among the "tribes" that want to believe them.

While Senators have already proposed a bill to hold social media companies accountable for revealing the purchasers of political advertising, this only scratches the surface of the problem. The Honest Ads act, introduced by Senators Warner, D-Va., Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Cain, R-Ariz., reiterates long-practiced rules in traditional media. For years TV, radio, and print media (newspapers, magazines, and billboards) have been required to state who sponsored political ads, in the ad itself.

Social media filled with subliminal messaging, posing as 'real news'

Unfortunately, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other social media companies offer a platform that allows additional surreptitious ways of influencing our thinking. What was once labeled subliminal advertising in the 1970's during the days of Marshall McLuhan (author of "Subliminal-Seduction," 1972) has taken on a more insidious tone today.

In the 21st century propagandists, infomecialists and advertisers have worked their words into the flow of what most consumers assume is valid content, or, more dangerously, what they believe is "real news." The actual story and the made up or fake story often blend together as one.

Today, with the ever-receding readership of traditional newspapers and magazines, a lot of consumers of news do not discern between real stories and fake stories which pop-up on their phones every day.

Aided unwittingly by the algorithms programmed to reach us and people with the same tastes as us, the subliminal content can spread without accurate accounting for reach and frequency (advertising jargon for how many eyeballs see an ad, and how many times). In any case, Facebook, Twitter, Google, and others will be scrambling to figure out ways to self-regulate their industry and protect us from foreign meddling in the future, before Congress votes to do it for them.

Social media consumers need to filter their own news for credibility

My contention is that American readers and consumers of social media need to be aware of traditionally acceptable places to absorb one's news, versus the websites or online addresses that may be no more newsworthy than The National Enquirer or The Star, found in the supermarket check-out line.

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