Reviews | What the White House doesn’t understand about disinformation

It is hopeless that disinformation about Covid and other topics takes hold so easily and demands constant monitoring and refutation. Misinformation – false stories and falsehoods – has always been with us, but it only really began to flood our political debates after the 2016 presidential campaign, as Donald Trump used it on social media and across the board. television as its main political strategy. Trump’s exile from Facebook and Twitter has tempered but not subdued the production and consumption of disinformation, as his heirs took some of his slack to subvert and confuse him.

The White House’s new strategy of ordering Facebook to curb disinformers could spark some spectacular headlines. This could persuade Facebook to limit disinformation about Covid. He might gain some attaboys from the types of public health. But so far, the effort appears to be backfiring, especially among conservatives and social media users who have criticized the government for censoring information related to Covid and the vaccines it opposes.

There is no precedent in the internet age where the US government is forcing a slipped idea back into the bottle, so Psaki and the White House would be wise to recall their campaign and rely more on it. what several recent university studies have taught us about disinformation. There is some evidence to suggest that we can deal with disinformation without resorting to direct censorship by encouraging social media users to pay more attention to accuracy when posting.

No critique of disinformation is complete without a passage detailing how journalists have sometimes been the greatest purveyors of this sort of thing. Journalists – and not just those in supermarket tabloids – have faked stories and deliberately deceived readers with hoaxes. They put forward as news various whispering campaigns alleging embezzlement and unproven plots by presidents, business leaders and celebrities. At the turn of the last century, the excesses of yellow journalism contaminated our media. As Brent Staples just wrote in the New York Times, until recent decades, American newspapers routinely disseminated slanderous false information about black people, portraying them as subhumans, congenital criminals, rapists and drug addicts. And it wasn’t just the newspapers in the South, Staples points out, but almost every newspaper. The black coverage was as dishonest and corrupt as any modern disinformation campaign, and it took several generations to reform. Another example of press misinformation is the century-old campaign against marijuana.

Traditionally, the mainstream press has worked with government, industry, unions and other leading institutions as an agent of social control, using shame, restraint and persuasion to advance a national political consensus. . This bridging function began to falter in the 1960s when thinkers like Rachel Carson, Betty Friedan, Ralph Nader, Martin Luther King Jr., Jane Jacobs, Vietnam War critics and others attacked and eroded the consensus. Energizing the consensus machine was good, but there was an unwanted side effect. Forces that blocked troublesome truths had also helped control the spread of nutbaggery. As the web and social media toppled gatekeepers, more awkward truths gained traction. But the nutbaggery too.

For example, before the Web, supporters of the principles of the John Birch Society had no idea how many people agreed with them that President Dwight Eisenhower was an agent of the international communist conspiracy. They existed in a state of “pluralistic ignorance” which prevented them from fully expressing their opinions. But the web shattered that ignorance, encouraging their modern counterparts, the QAnon believers, to unite and spread their misinformation. Anti-vaxxers like Robert Kennedy Jr. and broadcaster Tucker Carlson would never have had the chance to churn their foul wake of lies and deceit about Covid back then before the web and cable news.

The most disturbing thing about the disinformation of our time is its speed and distance from previous years. A 2018 MIT study shows that fake and fake news (characterized as such by six well-known fact-checking organizations) spreads faster on Twitter than true stories, gets retweeted more often, and spreads further. Fake news is 70% more likely to be retweeted than real news, and it’s people, not bots, that make the main spread. MIT researchers Soroush Vosoughi, Sinan Aral and Deb Roy attribute the power of spreading fake news to the novelty and excitement of sharing rubbish. No one receives – or expects to receive – a shock by sharing a story about community organizers sharing tips on where residents can get vaccinated. But the thug vision of G-man force-injecting you on the porch, married this week by Marjorie Taylor Greene in a Tweeter? This is enough to stimulate fight or flight in anyone. (She got 11,525 responses to that tweet, 5,852 retweets and 14,826 likes.)

What’s the point of tweeting disinformation? “People who share new information are considered to be in the know,” Aral said. Science magazine, and who doesn’t like to be considered avant-garde? “People react to fake news more with surprise and disgust,” Vosoughi says, while real news arouses sadness, anticipation and confidence. So great is the lure of fake that a BuzzFeed News survey found that in the last three months of the 2016 presidential campaign, “the top performing fake election news on Facebook generated more engagement. that the best stories from major media outlets such as the New York Times, Washington post, Huffington Post, NBC News and others.

A March study published in Nature explains that most social media users don’t deliberately seek out fake news. The researchers contacted more than 5,000 Twitter users who had shared links to two right-wing sites deemed unreliable by fact-checkers. They made no effort to correct the tweet from the tweeters, but instead asked for their opinion on the accuracy of an unrelated and apolitical headline. The researchers weren’t expecting an answer; they just wanted to remind respondents that accuracy was important. This simple, subtle reminder seems to have increased the “quality” of the news they then shared. “People are often distracted from the accuracy of the content,” wrote researchers David Rand and Gordon Pennycook. “Therefore, paying attention to the concept of accuracy can lead people to improve the quality of the news they share.” It would be great if everyone looked at a misinformation to avoid cheat sheet before they tweet, but they don’t. Another group of researchers have found that deletions of fake articles by fact-checkers almost never reach the people who share the fake articles.

The good news is that more than 80 percent of respondents in the Nature study said it was important to share accurate information on social media. Plus, respondents were actually clever at separating real from fake accounts when they thought about it; Researchers have found that when people share fake accounts, it’s often because they didn’t pay enough attention before clicking send. Who loves fake news the most? People who are “more willing to claim knowledge too much,” write Rand and Pennycook elsewhere.

When a user shares something, it doesn’t necessarily mean they believe it, note Rand and Pennycook. It seems he mostly tries to impress his followers and keep them entertained. Social media is, of course, optimized for engagement, not truth, and the urge to be the first to tweet or retweet something keeps many users from judging its accuracy in advance. These findings go against the common belief that we have entered a “post-truth” vortex in which people don’t care whether something is true or not. Most people care, but tweet garbage anyway. Many of us have been known to have committed this sin. Raise your hand if you’ve ever tweeted a little trick that you shouldn’t have.

If people sincerely want to share accurate information and if pushing them towards accuracy puts them on the right track to sharing more quality information, we might be inspired to think that the fight against disinformation is not hopeless. . Twitter and Facebook are now tagging and deleting what they consider to be misleading posts, in effect kicking Trump off their services. But the labeling has met with only mixed success. An unintended consequence of warning labels is that some users have come to interpret the messages. without labels approved as true by social media. Sometimes you can’t win to lose.

Instead of muzzling Facebook or accusing it of murder, the White House could consider asking, not ordering, social media companies to make users think before posting. Whatever strategies the White House ends up promoting to marginalize fake news …prohibition, “Pre-bundling”, to suspend, blocking, labeling, pushing, tweaking algorithms – we have to accept that there will always be a contingent that enjoys writing, reading and sharing obviously bogus material. To varying degrees, we all seem to be as drawn to the shockingly false as we are disappointed with the monotony and predictability of the true. Our psyche tends to shine brighter when fueled by the fantastic and the astonishing. This can pose an insurmountable problem for reality-based journalists learning how difficult it can be to compete with the fake. In the 1920s and 1930s, a slang term appeared to describe this type of thinking. It was called “thobby” and was defined as the confident reasoning of a person who is not curious about checking their results.

It will always take mental energy to tackle the false and the false, and no one will ever devise a magic formula to extinguish misinformation. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think twice before retweeting and asking our family, friends, and neighbors to do the same. The best guideline seems to be this: If you come across an inflammatory tweet that could easily be translated into a Day-Glo circus poster, leave it alone. Thobbery is for fools.


Why is there so little fake sports news? Is it because sports fans are familiar with the subject and ignore the hype? Send your speculations to [email protected]. My email alerts are for any wrong information. My Twitter feed the tweets that the fake. My RSS feed despises social networks.

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