Lost in the Noise

Social media is an integral part of our daily lives, but how do we avoid falling into its dangerous vortex?

    Written by Dorian Martin '06
  • Illustration by Chris Gash
  • Jun. 29, 2020
    3 min read

Dr. James Caverlee, a professor in Texas A&M University’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering who is working on a National Science Foundation-funded research project focused on social media and online radicalization, believes consumers need to be more discerning in how to safely and effectively use and interpret these online tools. “When we think about being safe on social media, there are two big concerns,” he said. “The more obvious one is what we share online, but equally important is what we consume online.”

In a world where social media users are bombarded daily with competing information and divergent perspectives, Caverlee offered advice on what to keep in mind when creating posts and perusing your feeds:

Beware of what you share.

Did you know that a technology-savvy third party can view your entire social media persona, even if you do your best to keep them private? “Even your personal social pictures on Instagram can get linked back to your work account on LinkedIn, particularly if you do any kind of digging,” he said. “People should therefore be careful and smart about what they share, keeping in mind the potential consequences.”


Pop the (filter) bubble. 

Some users’ social media intake is limited to perspectives that match and echo their own views. Therefore, Caverlee encourages users to seek opposing viewpoints in order to have a well-rounded view of an issue.


Remember: If it bleeds, it leads (on social media).

Large companies create sensational content to get more interaction, feedback, followers and shares in order to influence the algorithm. “On some platforms, a controversial or outrageous post may drive more interaction or feedback,” he said. “If that does happen, then the algorithms record that those posts lead to more engagement, and hence you tend to see more of those posts, which can distort your view of the world.”


See the forest from the trees. 

Obnoxious online comments by one vocal partisan—often related to sports or politics—does not mean an entire group feels the same way.


Don’t go down the rabbit hole.

The traditional ways of gauging someone’s expertise have been erased, and now anyone can claim to be an expert online. Many groups have formed around these self-professed experts, which has led to the creation of online pathways to dangerous conspiracy theories in the dark sections of the web and social media. “There are these unintended consequences of the internet that allow these negative behaviors and ideologies to ferment,” he said. “These vibrant and large ecosystems can propagate these kinds of conspiracies. We as consumers of this information don’t have the training or the tools to deal with it.”


Feeling safer in the social media landscape thanks to Dr. Caverlee’s advice? Support faculty, students and research like his in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering through an online gift at 

About Dr. James Caverlee

Dr. James Caverlee's research topics include social media, recommender systems, information retrieval, data mining and emerging networked information systems. He received his undergraduate degree in economics from Duke University, two master's degrees—one in computer science and one in engineering-economic systems and operations research—from Stanford University and his Ph.D. in computer science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2015, Caverlee worked at Google as a visting scientist throughout a sabbatical.