Fakes News in 2018.

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.







6 thoughts on “Fakes News in 2018.

  1. jzaccagn

    As much as I am over “Fake News”, the topic is still too relevant. I do think you are right. “Fake News” is not going away; but I think that awareness is growing, and I hope, that the awareness will make its way to the school system. I was at the England Run library not too long ago, and I saw posters regarding how to distinguish real and fake news!
    Maybe I am dumb, but your application of cognitive psychology is murky to me. These are the concepts I think you are addressing:
    Confirmation Bias. We are drawn to news stories that support our belief system. Questioning a story that is salient to our worldviews is totally a drag.
    We remember the news stories that trigger emotions.

    So what do we do with the stories that affect our emotions and support our beliefs? We share!
    Double-checking our sources takes too much effort!
    Thank you for sharing! As for my personal opinions, the anti-vax movement has become out of control and the consequences are unfortunate.

    1. Daniel Post author

      Thank you Valencia!! I edited the post for clarity. I didn’t actually realize I had neglected the “cognitive” aspect of the article.

      Also Base Rate Neglect on the part of the anti-vax movement is a very pertinent example.

      When I see the active ignoring of *FACTUAL* information I have to wonder exactly what causes this behavior. Generally speaking I think its correlated with Religiosity to an extent, as I know several religious communities tend to think its against tradition to vaccinate. (I believe Hasidic, and the Amish communities are relevant examples) For those of non-religious nature that are anti-vax or other “naturalistic” movements there is something else going on there, I am not honestly sure what.

      1. Julie

        I have been wanting to reply for awhile, but this spring semester has been slowly killing me with a butter knife. I still wanting to say you blew up my mind when you pointed out the base-rate neglect!!! It seems too obvious now, so I am glad I asked you for clarification!!
        The base-rate neglect example got me thinking about Utility Theory (hmmmm…is remembering Utility Theory an example of priming? anchoring? adjustment ? association links firing? Thinking about thinking is exhausting). Anyhow, to back to my original thought, could choosing not vaccinate be an example of poor use of utility?
        My biology professor at my last school was extremely pro-vax. She showed us a pro-vax documentary, and I was converted.

  2. emilybusbee

    The danger of fake news in the media is especially dangerous in a society like the one we have today. People are so quick to believe a tweet they read on twitter and blindly follow those ideals without doing any background research into the information that they heard. Every single media outlet has their own biases that it has become to easy to get lost in all of the talk and focus and find what the real truth is. This blog post is very interesting!

  3. abolen

    This was a very intriguing post to read about. Even being someone that does not watch a lot of news, I am still aware that fake news exists. From not watching the news, it is difficult to know what stories or facts people share with me are true. Between classes, work, friends, and family I encounter many moments of “Did you hear…”. Being close to these individuals it can be easy to automatically assume that what they are saying is true. I think your point about the confirmation bias is an interesting pairing with fake news. I can see how believing news that does not fit with our personal values or expectations would take a lot more convincing or logical reasoning.

  4. gross2

    After the 2016 election, I have become engrossed with watching the news and it is disheartening to think that some information out there posted by well known News channels may possibly be “fake”. As soon as we discussed confirmation bias in class I immediately thought of the “fake news” predicament we face. Depending on your political views we tend to seek out information that confirms our political views further driving the polarization in our country today.

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