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    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      I'm beginning to despair because this story has gone from "teenagers in Macedonia" to fake stories are now the weapon of choice around the world, more powerful than Cambridge Analytica, to win elections. And where there is that much at stake, big money rushes in.

      Credible headlines:

      Sinclair's fake-news zombies should terrify you

      A new study suggests fake news might have won Donald Trump the 2016 election

      I know, fake news has always been with us, but has it ever been this powerful and persuasive? Pleas for critical thinking have me feeling like thoughts and prayers are for gun violence. Everyone thinks they are not affected by fake news because they have critical thinking skill, just as advertising only affects other people, not me.

    • Chris

      Oh, I see that Facebook just rolled out a new feature today to help identify fake news. They blogged about it on Medium and put a video on Vimeo. Surprising.

      It seems like the idea is to put a little i icon near the article title that you can tap to get more info about the publisher, what Wikipedia says, related articles from the publisher, and the share distribution among your friends.

      I can't get it working yet on my Facebook, but I get the point. Do you think it will help?

    • DE

      Powrful, especially if you want to divide and create conflict.

      I'm now reading the 2011 book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Among the topics explored are different ways to create believability for anything short of absolute nonsense.

      Advertisers know this stuff. It's only been recently that they have applied the more sophisticated techniques to politics.

      Seems like there's less chance we'd see same techniques used to create unity and progress. So much of politics is demonizing the "others" and that's been constant for ages. Fake news is instantly more believable if it's about how evil the others are. Fake news is very useful.

      So, I guess I'm not an optimist.

    • grayrest

      I don't think propaganda is more powerful than it's been in the past, just that the improved targeting from online data gathering makes it cheaper to put into play.

      As for specifics about the election, I feel like 538's predictions of Trump at 30% were about right and given the margins in the rust belt states that decided it, you could argue that pretty much anything would have been make or break. Nevertheless, there's been a lot of digital ink spilled on this topic, so I'll link articles.

      The fake news hit Facebook particularly hard because it was designed to be shared and sharing makes spreading it cheaper. As for the CA targeting, a fraction of the population responds highly to fear/authoritarianism and that was the targeting profile. I've also read a number of articles claiming fact-checking alone doesn't help but a counter-narrative does.

      As for why this is happening now, I blame advertising. It's why you have 24 hour news channels treating politics like it's a sport (most of the strikethrough video series is pretty good) and why you have a bunch of really smart devs over at <any large online site> figuring out how to increase stickiness without consideration of the echo-chamber they're creating. The pervasive surveilance that we volunatarily accept as part of the ad-driven monitization for online content and corresponding push for continued engagement on the content side is the major reason I don't like working for companies that rely on advertising as part of their business model.

      I don't have any particularly good ideas on how to solve it but I do like keeping track.

    • cvdavis

      While fake news may be a relatively new phenomena - being ill informed and easily fooled into voting for a poor choice is nothing new. In other words it's not a new thing that people are being duped. Money has always had a big influence on what people think and who gets voted in. The Trump phenomenon and the Republicans arguments are nothing new here.

    • eon

      Fake news or deception in public communication is very real and it may take decades to dig out from this. Rush Limbaugh brow beats the word "truth" so much on his radio show that it is now redefined for his audience with a conspiratorial double meaning. Also how our brains process information and how it is presented to us has been hacked through dark arts psychology. What about ism is a good example. Twisting morality to "if they can so can we".

      We have to take a closer look at information and what the motives of the source is. while also processing information overload.

      And we have devolution, flat earthers are one group. And other even more volatile beliefs being projected and imposed on others that is definitely regressive not progressive.

      Polarisation of political party and "Wedge issues" such as abortion and guns have been put into play in a way that intentionally distract from protecting quality of life for the majority into monetary protection for the top 1%. Because in order to address income inequality we first have to battle over guns god and gays.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      I read Ralph Peter’s perspective on why he left Fox News, and it was disturbing. I know we've had fake news in America before, but have we ever had it at this level before?

    • Chris

      Buzzfeed wrote a pretty sobering account this morning of how fake news travels so much faster than real news in the wake of a tragedy like the YouTube shooting. Thing is, you can make stuff up fast and the stuff you make up can be more salacious than truth. And anyone can do it, totally outnumbering journalists who are trying to unearth real facts, which is harder to do and slower.

    • Lauren

      Fake news has been so prominent in recent events that will go down in history here in the UK. Namely, Brexit and the Scottish Independence Referendum.

      To give a brief example of the effect fake news had on these events, and the way said news helped lead to the inevitable outcome:

      Brexit: Well, I think the ridiculousness of this one is known pretty much across the globe now. Those voting for Brexit (many who have now changed their minds) assumed they were going to save the National Health Service by doing so. How? Because the pro-Brexit Government made a big point that the EU costs the UK £350 million per week and that this money could go towards the NHS. I mean they literally plastered this on the side of a London bus. Was this true? Not one bit. Did pro-Brexiteers believe it? Every single piece of it.

      Scottish Independence Referendum: "Scare-mongering" is now a phrase that will forever be linked to the run up to this vote. Those against Scottish Independence (mostly right-wing politics), told made-up stories that aimed to play on the emotions of the older generation. And it worked. If you look at the breakdown of that vote, younger voters voted a majority 'yes' and vice versa. The 'No' campaign threatened against things like pensions and high levels of immigration. It was literally a case of "everything bad that happens here is a fault of immigrants".

      I think we are living in a world of post-truth politics, where statements are made to play on the emotions of those listening without any connect to real-world policy or fact. We consume everything we read and believe every word we hear without fact-checking (I'm generalising, but based on recent political events in both the UK and USA, it's clearly a problem). Maybe its a little to do with unconscious bias too? If the political party you support says something, you believe it without checking, so-to speak because it 'proves' your argument and justifies your support. Fake news has become ubiquitous as a signal for political supporters to ignore legitimate reporting and hard questions.

      It begs the question: is our unconscious bias more damaging than the fake news itself?

      Or is it all part of the same umbrella? Bias, propaganda, and misleading information = fake news?

      I think the proof is in the pudding, fake news is real and we really ought to start finding new ways to call it out. I'm intrigued to see how Facebook's proposed way of identifying it will lead the way for others to do the same.

      Anyway, here's the bus that changed the UK political landscape forever.

    • cvdavis

      Providing the misinformed person a counter narrative is an important one for creating more critical thinkers who want to help counter misinformation and debunk people's claims. This will be something that we have to take steps to teach in critical thinking classes - which are desperately needed. Thank you for your comments grayrest.

    • cvdavis

      The solution to the back fire effect or at least the best supported solution to it is providing the thinker with an alternative narrative that makes sense. Merely attacking the belief or saying it's wrong or even giving some evidence against it is usually not enough unless the person is given a complete alternative narrative that makes sense and can more easily fit in with their ideas of the world. None of this is of course easy but it's reason to not give up hope or efforts. Those efforts just need to be directed and well supported with an alternative story that makes sense.

    • Chris

      I had never heard about the backfire effect before a few days ago when I read about it in a book. I was astonished because when someone brings up evidence that I'm wrong, my perception is that I'm a combination of embarrassed, grateful to be set straight, and upset that my reputation took a ding. It never occurred to me that debunking a false belief could make the belief stronger.

    • eon

      The backfire effect can be very strong with black or white thinkers and authoritarians. They can be forceful in talking down to those who they have contempt toward.

      Take a day of your life on the phone and meetings and record it. take notes at the end of the day. wait a week and review it. I had to do this to defend myself from rogue cops. after a while the public information officer just stopped calling with a accusatory tone. I told him the premeditated script to the encounters and the legal precedent backing up the quotes. But the police would deviate from that and put it in writing in reports against me. The footage and audio proved them wrong every time.

      cop

      "he told me he could film whatever he wants"

      actuall stament from me

      "you cannot have a reasonable expectation of privacy while in public view"

      Be careful being "set straight" they can have ulterior motives. Had I believed the police you would never see footage of incidents on the evening news.

      Also the backfire effect is very strong with emotional thinkers. They have hardwired their amygdala to react to intellectual threats as physical threats and can get a adrenaline rush if you use the right combination of language with them. They literally are the most likely to use the term snowflake and jump to conclusions.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuristics_in_judgment_and_decision-making

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_miser

      These play a role in getting people to litigate against their own best interests.

    • cvdavis

      We all have to make conscious efforts to exposing our own biases and being open to change. For me that means reading newspapers and articles with viewpoints different from my own. Reading posts by friends with political views different from my own. By continuing to listen to, read, and study critical thinking and to continue telling myself how important it is to be open to change. Religion is dogmatic and science is being open to change. I want to be on the side of science. As you said it's not easy being wrong but it's usually not such a clear cut conclusion. Usually there's simply more nuance than we thought.

    • Chris

      Whoa, fascinating. I've been watching a Netflix series on night crawlers, the guys who spend all night in Los Angeles getting video of accidents, robberies, etc., to try and sell to the evening news. I can't imagine what they see.

    • We used to make video news releases at a company I worked at. We used freelance reporters to read the copy and the copy was written as if it were news. Of course, it was more advertising than fake news but the ease with which a story could be inserted into the nightly news stream as “news” was amazing. Especially if it were polished and presented in a way it could be easily used.

      Today, thats even easier to do with services like a professional looking website or blog, YouTube or Facebook. Anyone can be a journalist. Anyone can present their opinion as fact. Cellphone video with live narrative from non-journalists is acceptable—even better in highly charged situations as “raw” footage and can quickly change the perception of what really happened. Look how quickly the YouTube thing was branded as Domestic Violence.

      My point is it doesn’t take much to get your message out there. Just look at the number of sources in this thread that are bloggers or other alternative sources. Each of them are clearly influencers. Right?

    • eon

      Night crawlers: when i was in the business I did not act like them. never ever pulled the traffic maneuvers. And 80% of the events I responded to the stations had called to verify i was aware of it. the rest they just expected me to have known about.

      VNR's always had some ulterior motive. Constantly harassing the desk and filling up their fax machine. Then election season would come around and they would disappear, probably working for the politicians.

      Many good people have left the news in the last decade. There was a working environment change around 2008. Even back then SINclair had a role in this. The people who replaced them where more interested in getting a scoop or exclusive then gathering news in general. And often would tell witnesses not to talk to the other stations or media.

      It takes a 100 human hours to make the first 7 minutes of a newscast. maybe less now with software but still the end viewer is not aware of how much work goes into finding and telling stories.

      A reporter I witnessed leave called to tell me goodbye and why they left. Corporate sent down a edict. "If you can't develop and cover the story in a 8 hour shift you are not to work on it" All of the really important stories take more than 3 days to package. you may not be fully engaged in just that story but making phone and receiving calls over several days. This was no longer allowed. corporate knew what they were doing.

    • slamdunk406

      Sadly, fake news has proven to be a very powerful weapon. I think what's unfortunate is that it preys upon people's fears and also, people constantly seek confirmation that what they believe is right. Confirmation bias. So, I think it's really those two things that make it such an effective weapon. People's fears and confirmation bias.

      The only way to combat it is to inform others and to stay informed yourself. That simple. Knoweldge is power!

    • slamdunk406

      You are right that this era is unique when it comes to fake news. It seems to be much more prevalent. Largely in part because of how quickly it can spread.

    • Sadly, I’m not sure what’s being spoon fed and what’s true news. Listening to the radio, you hear ads offering new windows. The talent is reading the copy and spewing what a great job they did. Or how great that person feels after a really exclusive workout. Then Smithsonian offers “mighty ships” for cruise ships. Oh sure, you get a beautiful view of the ship and the beautiful people on a trip of a lifetime. Is that advertising or education? Vice. It’s an hbo news program. What’s its message?

      I feel like everything I see in media is suspect. Anything.

    • eon

      http://www.adweek.com/tvspy/retiring-indianapolis-anchor-says-consultants-make-all-tv-stations-look-the-same/109911

      “I’ll tell you what would encourage me more is less reliance on consultants that come in and give you advice,”

      “What I think they’ve done, and we’ve understood now, is they can homogenize news. They can make us all look the same. If you do research and you find out what viewers think, they’ll sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between news channels. I really kind of blame these companies that come in and give the same advice.”

      http://jimromenesko.com/2013/07/02/consultants-list-of-words-that-add-urgency-to-tv-news-reports/

      * we do have some breaking news right away
      * rapid developments
      * this story is rapidly changing
      * you saw it here first just minutes ago
      * we are going to be covering this live for you
      * breaking overnight
      * you are looking live
      * but first we begin with
      * all new
      * new right now
      * new developments are unfolding
      * we are watching with you these first pictures live from the scene
      * this is a rapidly developing situation
      * breaking as we go on air
      * you’ll hear in just seconds
      * take a live look behind me
      * but after we told you…we kept asking
      * we’ve been talking about this in the last hour
      * we want to give you the very latest
      * we are going to stay on this story every step of the way
      * we have new information for you as soon as anything happens
      * we are following this closely and are making sure you don’t miss anything
      * we are going to stay on this story night and day
      * we are not stopping with our coverage until this story is done


      /////

      We don't talk enough about who really influences local tv. The insultants come in and train the producers not to use certain words or to creativity write headlines to draw you into the A block (first 7 min) that are often misleading to get your attention.

      I know it is easy for many to say this doesn't effect me i don't watch tv but you inter act with people who do.

      Fox news viewers specifically need to be observed for world views that are developed through propaganda you don't even know they have been exposed to. Just because you are smart enough to reject much of their deception does not mean many others have not fallen into a "non critical thinking pattern".

      When it was first brought to my attention that Rush Limbaugh was using preacher techniques I would run his show through a audio filter just enough to mike what he was saying undisguisable. He had a tone and a rate of speech (words per minute) rate that would fluctuate consistent with a Televangelist. Then when he started broadcasting on live streams and cable you could watch him and his body language. turning of the audio I noticed how agitated he would get. then i would find that days transcript and go to that time in the show to read it instead of taking it in live. this way I did not become a "Ditto head" (which is part of his propaganda to get others to blindly follow his disruptive logic) (get on the bandwagon) Rush has a script and timing to what he conveys to his listeners. Often it is to get others to litigate against their own best interests.





    • You’re right about the formulatic nature of the news. The careful use of leading lines, positions of stories, etc. the choice of “independent experts” matters too.

    You've been invited!