In our world today where people are avid media consumerists misinformation is spread like wildfire through the means of fake news. With an easy repost button, platforms of influence, and the following anyone can share information regardless of the validity of what is being said. This online engagement allows for easy access to a vast majority of information that is created by highly accredited researchers, and also just the average opinionated person. Media platforms provide a network for this information to reach many people based on algorithms rather than credibility of source. We are in uncharted territory as we have entered a new era of news sources through its spread in the media, which comes with many benefits, but also brings about a whole new can of worms that people need to be aware of. Misinformation can flourish under circumstances where consumers do not act as their own information gatekeepers, media sources pick out their own findings from conducted research, and tweets are made without checking the accuracy of the information.
Many people fall victim to misinformation, which falls under categories of rumors and fiction, government and politicians, vested interests, and the media (Lewandowsky et al., 2012). There are people who use the media as a tool to produce and spread misinformation’s, and also those who spread misinformation as they fall prey to preconceived false news (Lewandowsky et al., 2012). It can be challenging to know what a good source is for information, as even trusted media sources “can inadvertently oversimplify, misrepresent, or overdramatize scientific results” (Lewandowsky et al., 2012, pg. 110). This makes it difficult for readers to know what information and from what sources they can trust. Most people do not go search for the latest news or research studies conducted to see if the headlines of articles are truthfully representing the results of the study. This plays into our consumerist mentality.
The 2016 US presidential election is a great example of how misinformation can be spread. Twitter was at the forefront of this online war that took place. The results of a study done by Jang et al., found surprisingly enough that “root tweets about fake news were mostly generated by accounts from ordinary users, but they often included a link to non-credible news websites” (Jang et al., 2018, pg. 111). This shows that the majority of the false news that you saw circulating twitter was not necessarily spread by those with mal intentions, but who do not know how to filter truthful information from faults. This study did a good job showing how “content changes form as it spreads,” (Jang et al., 2018, pg. 111) as these tweets looked very different from the sights they were taken from. Since so many people were retweeting them it seemed as if it were all true. In psychology this is called the propaganda effect, which is when you see something so much that even if you thought it was false you start to see it as being true. This is the scary part of misinformation, as though people may understand that the information is incorrect it can still affect how they feel towards something (Lazer et al., 2018). So instead of blaming Russian bots for taking over the Twittersphere during the election, it may be beneficial for us to take a look in the mirror and understand the bed we made.
It is extremely difficult to prevent fake news from coming up in the media. It is the ideal to have all information on the internet to be true, but that is a hefty task and not one I believe we should try to combat fully through forms of censorship. I think we would be better off spending our time and money educating people on how to critically analyze the information they are presented through different media sources. Fake news is able to thrive in media outlets such as twitter, Instagram, YouTube, blogs, etc., as they “lack the news media’s editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information” (Lazer et al., 2018, pg. 1094). As a digital content creator myself I think the value of the internet and these platforms is that people can put whatever they want out there. As a blogger myself I would be pretty upset if my site got censored because I spoke about things that mattered to me, even if they were controversial. I do not force anyone to read my work, but it is out there for anyone to read. I think people need to understand and be able to differentiate opinion pieces versus opinions based on research.
Misinformation is a serious problem in our world today. It has the power to ruin a person’s career, take advantage of those in vulnerable positions, and can make people weary of the media as a whole. The media is only going to expand, which will undoubtedly result in an increase in misinformation being spread. It is vital for humanity to be able to discern and question what it is they see in the media. There needs to be a shift from passive consumers, to active ones.
Lazer, D., Baum, M. A., Benkler, Y., Berinsky, A. J., Greenhill, K. M., Menczer, F., Metzger, M. J., Nyhan, B., Rand, D. G., Rothschild, D., Schudson, M., Sloman, S. A., Sunstein, C. R., Thorson, E. A., Watts, D. J., & Zittrain, J. L. (2018). The science of fake news. Science, 359(6380), 1094–1096. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aao2998
Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U. K. H., Seifert, C. M., Schwarz, N., & Cook, J. (2012). Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(3), 106–131. https://doi-org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/10.1177/1529100612451018
Jang, S. M., Geng, T., Li, J., Xia, R., Huang, C., Kim, H., & Tang, J. (2018). A computational approach for examining the roots and spreading patterns of fake news: Evolution tree analysis. Computers in Human Behavior, 84, 103–113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.02.032