Everyone within the Social Media sphere and any political movement is aware of this problem; “Fake News.” How do we deal with it? How do we determine “fake news” and why is it so prolific? Well luckily as of late many researchers within various fields have been looking into it, so we are beginning to gain perspective on fake news and its effects.
After the 2016 election this worry really came into its own, with President Trump and his administration calling anything they seemingly disagree with “fake news” as well as various news networks, worldwide, spreading information that has not been verified. Stoking the fire is the recent discovery of Cambridge Analytica taking private information from Facebook and using it to disseminate designed “fake news” to appeal to the viewer to influence political agendas, seems as if a veritable tidal wave of disinformation has crossed the net.
When looking at “Fake News” or any similar information the research group from M.I.T found that it spreads far faster then real information. Why is this? Well there are a few theories, most of these ideas center around having a target to blame, group to oppose, or an agenda to propagate. However, much like gossip or something that is insulting or comedic much of this information stokes deep emotional responses and may cause more aggressive reactions, spreading of the given information. The initial assumption when looking at much of the research assumed it was that “Bots” (A net based automated program) were the cause of much of the issues regarding the spread of “fake news.” However, what was found was that in actuality was that people were the cause of the problem spreading.
When looking at dissemination of fake news it usually happens like this; a person sees it, the information resonates with that person. Then they re-tweet or share the information on their given social media platform causing a branching effect. Eventually it spreads out and becomes widespread knowledge. When looking at the wide spread prevalence and use of social media, its easy to see why “fake news” spreads so quickly and widely. When looking at Fake News specifically it shows that something that is less likely or something that is easily believable might not be the most popular thing to report on. “If it bleeds it leads” is a statement often used by reporters and people in the mainstream media behind the scenes. Things that cause fear, anger, hatred, emotional upset, and things that show violence tend to lead to better ratings. If these things are mis-reported in something such as social media, which often has little to no oversight regarding where it is coming from, citations, sources, or any kind of peer review, it’s easy to see how it spreads so fast and is so abundant.
What effects does this really have on society? Well one of the bigger issues is that something that is fake or factually wrong becomes an accepted “truth.” One of the best examples in modern day is the “anti-vax” movement, sparked by a now debunked study published by Andrew Wakefield, formerly a doctor who has since lost his accreditation’s due to fraud allegations, when looking at the information you can see how the conspiratorial attitude lends itself to being “Sexy” to your average audience and viewer. Looking at something as shocking as “The government is poisoning the populace through vaccines! Vaccines cause autism and other intellectual disabilities!” makes for a headline that is very shocking and certainly draws in readers, this is of course has long term effects. Looking at modern day consequences from something such as the anti-vax movement gives you a good idea how far “fake news” can go.
As recent as 2017 Minnesota had an outbreak of measles due to a high amount of vaccine doubters refusing to vaccinate their children, and as such many children ended up hospitalized. Europe also has “anti-vax” movements of their own and both Italy, and Spain have had huge outbreaks of Rubela and Measles due to people not properly vaccinating which has lead to hospitalizations and some deaths. With Kansas having a Measles outbreak going on currently. (April of 2018) This is a very strong example of “fake news” and the long-term effects. Proper education, proper references and source material for citations, and any additional confirming information would all help toward fixing this issue.
Unfortunately, I don’t see this issue going away, as the more attractive posts (conspiratorial as an example) will probably stay in circulation. It is the job of various social media platforms to stem the tide, and the job of people on social media to disseminate real news or information. One final additional point when regarding fake news; If a person preconceived notion (or worldview) lends itself toward that fake news (religious beliefs, political leanings, etc.) a person is more likely to believe that news even if there is factual information proving it incorrect. It is easier to accept your own worldview as correct then it is to have it challenged.
The effects of fake news definitely has a place with Confirmation Bias. For some the ability to allow things in their own worldview that is reinforced by “data” (in this case doctored information) is a rather pertinent one. Its almost in a way a form of Cognitive Dissonance, where you have opposing and contradictory beliefs but support both (those that talk about scientific understanding while citing non-scientific websites as reference material)
When I think of anti-vax I see it as a form of Base-Rate neglect. You look at something in the Anti Vaccine movement, and you see them completely ignoring not only scientific understanding but the very large “sample size” (for the lack of a better term) regarding use of Vaccines. Actual damage or harm caused by vaccines is an incredibly small percentage, some quotes from the CDC is as low as .01% of a given population, usually being those with immunodeficiency that cannot actually take the vaccine. Of course the movement tends to ignore these numbers in favor of “natural” answers, that seems like a solid example of Base-Rate neglect.