Fake news is not news – that is, it is not in fact news, and the matter of fake news is not a recent revelation. But while fake news is a thorny problem that needs addressing in its own right, it is part of an even bigger issue too. Discourse –- the process by which humanity collectively comes to an understanding of itself, and so shapes its own future –- is fundamentally broken.
The problem begins with the school debate, a win-or-lose scenario where one party ultimately triumphs in the claim for truth. The real world is, of course, more intricate, with numerous subtleties lying between any two extremes. Yet this model persists all the way into international politics, where complex issues are reduced to soundbites. Material that arouses heated emotions within the viewer spreads faster and wider than well-considered, evidence-based argument.
For an elected leader, a u-turn is seen as the ultimate betrayal, but for a scientist, changing views in the face of better evidence is a sign of the highest integrity. An alert reader would recognise this, but many do not and are left uninformed and angry.
However, the very social and digital technology that is causing and spreading these problems could instead tackle the issue.
Imagine, if you will, a sort of spellchecker application for ideas: that familiar squiggly underline appears for bad logic or conflicting evidence.
Before you object that any claim could be flagged with contradictory information, or that the choice of beliefs is a personal one, rest assured that the logic checker’s settings could allow for this. Right click, reject correction. Mind you, the checker now knows you must believe one of several alternatives. The evidence was fabricated, the interpretation was wrong, and so on.
Still, you’ve succeeded in removing the squiggly underline, so long as at least one of those alternatives is compatible with all the other beliefs you’ve previously taught the checker. If not, then you’ll get another error message. If your position is truly out of touch with is the proven truth, you’ll ultimately be forced either to reject the scientific method altogether, or more productively, to confront the inconsistencies in your views.
Is it possible that arguing with an unemotional machine rather than another human would take the ego out of discussion? Being shown where your beliefs contradict themselves would surely be an immensely valuable tool for learning.
The aim of this fictitious checker is not to be the final arbiter of truth and falsehood – but, in a world of information overload, to track down conflicting evidence and counterarguments faster than you could ever do so yourself. In fact, this isn’t so far from today’s internet search extended into the semantic web, where knowledge is represented as structured data rather than free text. The futuristic part is the text processing, but that’s not essential to the system: the user could instead choose ideas, beliefs and claims manually from a crowdsourced database –- or input their own – rather than the computer doing so automatically. And there are numerous examples of experimental systems like this that have already been built.
From here to there
Why then, are we not using automated or crowdsourced logic checking already? It turns out that building a community of people to create the supporting data is harder than building the technology. Successful online communities do exist, albeit they are shaped by their own agendas. Facebook must be the world’s largest repository of community-generated data, but the creation process is shaped by algorithms with the ultimate aim of producing advertising revenue simply by keeping the user engaged for as long as possible.
Perhaps more interesting is Stack Exchange where communities pose and answer questions on specific topics. Because maintaining a reputed source of information is integral to the model, user interaction is guided by votes and reputation scores. Still, Stack Exchange has made compromises to this end, most notably an effective ban on subjective questions, which are an essential part of any complete understanding of the world around us.
Most interesting of all is Wikipedia, which despite its imperfections has succeeded in building a charitable community directed towards documentation of knowledge. Returning to our fictitious logic checker, two projects built on Wikipedia have already taken significant steps towards the sort of structured information necessary to support it: Wikidata could one day become the crowdsourced database mentioned above, while dbPedia attempts to extract the data automatically from existing articles.
Is this the answer to all of our problems? Of course not. No tool of this type will completely remove the underlying power structures – including, but not limited to, online community business models – that contribute to our present day situation. But these tools have the potential to improve the way we communicate with one another, and that can’t be a bad thing.
About The Author
Crispin Cooper, Research associate, Cardiff University
Studio: The Resistance Manifesto
Label: The Resistance Manifesto
Publisher: The Resistance Manifesto
Manufacturer: The Resistance Manifesto
What are the real world effects of fake news stories that go viral? Did it affect the outcome of the 2016 presidential election? Or is ‘fake news’ a fake problem, designed to justify tighter control over the mechanisms of sharing information online to drive audiences back to brand name media outlets because their audiences and influence are dwindling?
Media analyst Mark Dice takes a close look at the fake news phenomenon and the implications of mega-corporations like Facebook, Google, and Twitter becoming the ultimate gatekeepers and distributors of news and information.
You will see the powerful and deceptive methods of manipulation that affect us all, as numerous organizations and political activists cunningly plot to have their stories seen, heard, and believed by as many people as possible.
The depths of lies, distortions, and omissions from traditional mainstream media will shock you; and now they’re colluding with the top tech companies trying to maintain their information monopolies. This is The True Story of Fake News.
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Studio: MIT Press
Label: MIT Press
Publisher: MIT Press
Manufacturer: MIT Press
How we arrived in a post-truth era, when “alternative facts” replace actual facts, and feelings have more weight than evidence.
Are we living in a post-truth world, where “alternative facts” replace actual facts and feelings have more weight than evidence? How did we get here? In this volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Lee McIntyre traces the development of the post-truth phenomenon from science denial through the rise of “fake news,” from our psychological blind spots to the public's retreat into “information silos.”
What, exactly, is post-truth? Is it wishful thinking, political spin, mass delusion, bold-faced lying? McIntyre analyzes recent examples―claims about inauguration crowd size, crime statistics, and the popular vote―and finds that post-truth is an assertion of ideological supremacy by which its practitioners try to compel someone to believe something regardless of the evidence. Yet post-truth didn't begin with the 2016 election; the denial of scientific facts about smoking, evolution, vaccines, and climate change offers a road map for more widespread fact denial. Add to this the wired-in cognitive biases that make us feel that our conclusions are based on good reasoning even when they are not, the decline of traditional media and the rise of social media, and the emergence of fake news as a political tool, and we have the ideal conditions for post-truth. McIntyre also argues provocatively that the right wing borrowed from postmodernism―specifically, the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth―in its attacks on science and facts.
McIntyre argues that we can fight post-truth, and that the first step in fighting post-truth is to understand it.
Studio: Prufrock Press
Label: Prufrock Press
Publisher: Prufrock Press
Manufacturer: Prufrock Press
Educators have long struggled to teach students to be critical consumers of the information that they encounter. This struggle is exacerbated by the amount of information available thanks to the Internet and mobile devices. Students must learn how to determine whether or not the information they are accessing is reputable. Fighting Fake News! focuses on applying critical thinking skills in digital environments while also helping students and teachers to avoid information overload. According to a 2016 Pew Research report, we are now living in a world where 62% of people report that they get their "news" from social media. With the lessons and activities in this book, students will be challenged to look at the media they encounter daily (including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, and more) to learn to deepen and extend their media literacy and critical thinking skills. Now more than ever, teachers need the instruction in Fighting Fake News! to teach students how to locate, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate information.