Listen to this anecdote, a professor is doing some research, after sifting through multiple website he lands on the an article published by a group called the American College of Pediatricians that discussed how to handle bullying in schools.
The professor read the article and he does the mandatory check most people do on the internet to confirm a site is legit.
The website ends in .org ✓
Clean layout and no auto-play videos ✓
Quality writing ✓
Academic citations ✓
After five minutes, the professor found little reason to doubt the article. “I’m clearly looking at an official site,” he said.
But was he?
Aesthetically the site looked legitimate but what the professor didn’t realise was that the American College of Pediatricians broke from the American Academy of Pediatrics over the issue of adoption by same-sex couples. It has been accused of promoting antigay policies, and the Southern Poverty Law Center designates it as a hate group.
The point of that long intro is to highlight even someone whose entire life revolves around research can be tricked but the aethetic of a website.
Indeed, a 2016 Pew poll found that nearly a quarter of Americans said they had shared a made-up news story.
There was a time when it was only less internet savvy adults, who were the ones that fell for ‘fake news’ but now it’s so easy to build and set up a website anyone can be a victim. Couple that with deep fakes ( realistic-looking videos showing events that never happened) and we have a problem on our hands.
Now the worry isn’t that one of your friends might share one of those ‘You won’t believe what happened next’ article. The frightening thing is what website a mother who searched whether she should vaccinate her child clicks. And when a kid is exposed to Holocaust deniers researching a project.
As stated above we aren’t falling for fake news because we are dumb, the internet is a complex place and most of us are bringing knives to gun-fights.
These influence what we click, if you are liberal you are less likely to click on a Fox News article vice versa for right-wingers with CNN. Our political leaning make us lazy and lead us to live a sheltered life online. We won’t engage with what might challenge us because that is to much work and now one wants to be proven wrong.
Following on from the last point emotion get the better of us not only online but just browsing a shop isle. Psychologists have termed our cognitive shortcuts heuristics. You don’t and can’t take the time and energy to examine and compare every brand of yogurt,” says Wray Herbert, author of On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits.
Sharing fake news to stop fake news.
Do you do this?
Whilst it seems a noble cause, this actually has a negative impact. The problem with our brains is that they like to be efficient all the time, but when it comes to fake news this becomes a weakness. Fluency heuristics states that we are more likely to believe a something if we have been exposed to it before. If you see an article that claims Trump is going to bring back the draft and another one of your friends shares it, after a while you might believe it without ever fact-checking.
The higher the website is on Google does not mean the website is more legit. For example, GQ ranks above us on Google but we are clearly the better website. The search result all depend on keywords and SEO most people don’t understand this so to them if Google is showing it to them first it must mean it’s trusted.
Researchers have found 6 in 10 links get retweeted without users’ reading anything besides someone else’s summation of it. If your friend who shares the same political allegiances as you hare something it must be true right? This is also the case for articles that play on our emotion of disgust and outrage.
The Conspiracy Paradox
Many people blame Facebook and Google for the rise of fake news but some of the blame is miss-placed. Sure the platform could do better filtering fake news. However, us as users also have to play our role as well.
Tessa Lyons-Laing, a product manager who works on Facebook’s News Feed, says the company toyed with the idea of alerting users to hoaxes that were traveling around the web each day. Facebook decided against this because their attempt at alerting people of fake news just led people to believe articles that weren’t flagged by Facebook. We could place this down to our distrust of corporations.
We can’t stop fake news but we can learn how to spot it, and also do our bit in preventing the spread of fake news regardless of whether we have good intentions when sharing it.
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