Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Fake News

I wrote a post about fake news already. It's true, just completely unhelpful. While it points out the hypocrisy of the mainstream media, it doesn't help understanding why fake news exist.

I see now that fake news aren't simply untrue news items. I mean the situation is not that people want to be informed, go to some source expecting true news and get fakes instead by malicious actors. If this would be the case, the sources of fake news would run out of readers very soon.

The truth is that fake news isn't for information, it's a form of recreation. The consumers purposefully look for fake news and any unbiased analysis would be rejected by them. The consumption of fake news gives the feeling or being right, righteous and morally superior. It's like drugs, a form of recreation for socially, economically or politically frustrated people. They know that drugs and fake news are bad for them, but they prefer to feel good right now and both drugs and fake news deliver.

Fake news create a parallel fantasy universe where the opinion of the consumer is the truth. It's also a place where he isn't simply factually right, but also morally. He is on the right side of history, his enemies are not simply incorrect but personally horrible evils plotting for the destruction of the world. Fake news are a superhero movie where the consumer is the intimate friend of the hero, fighting together against a superevil.

Also, among the other readers of the same fake news site, they can find friends thinking the same way, forming an imaginary army against evil. This provide them the most important social reward: being loved and respected by peers.

Fake news can't be defeated any more than drugs. The consumers can't be saved because they don't want to be saved. They don't want the truth, they want to forget the truth, they just want to feel good.


Anonymous said...

You are very right about this, I think.

I also think this is true for people choosing to favour a "conservative newspaper" over a "leftist" one, and vice versa. Facebook works like this as well, choosing the "randomly" presented "news items" according to past choices made by the user, thus reinforcing his already present outlook on the world.

The distinguishing property between fake news (on and off Facebook) and factual news remains just that. Since most people cannot tell one from the other, it would be a good idea if "fact checkers" reported on the percentage of "fake or fact" for every major news source, and every news source should be required to publish their own results alongside every news item they publish, so that readers can at least have an idea of the general credibility of the source.

Of course, very soon fake fact checkers would emerge, requiring another layer of required credibility...

Maybe readers should be encouraged - or required?! - to consume news from many different sources?

Anonymous said...

> I mean the situation is not that people want to be informed, go to some source expecting true news and get fakes instead by malicious actors.

The discussion of this issue focuses mainly on Facebook, wherein user's feeds were being populated with fake-news headlines. Since the headlines were sensational (i.e. clickbait) they tended to be shared very widely among Facebook friends.

Nobody sought out the Denver Guardian. Nobody considered it a reputable source. Nobody chose to visit it regularly. In fact: you *cannot* visit it regularly because is just a blank template page. Someone set it up in July 2016, published a single fake story ( and subsequently took it down. That particular story was shared over 500,000 times. It produced some ad revenue for the fake-news writer. Perhaps it swayed a few hundred voters.

The important thing, though, is that most of the people who received the "share" from a friend did *not* actually visit the site. They didn't need to. It appeared in their feed alongside reputable articles and op-eds from national newspapers. The name (Denver Guardian) seemed like a legit name for a local newspaper. The user is in a hurry, so he just skims past it and is slightly influenced. If he's an undecided voter and he sees a dozen headlines about fake Clinton conspiracies (or fake Trump sex scandals) then that may be enough to decide his vote. He doesn't have time to click through and read every story -- let alone performing secondary research in order to validate the authenticity of each source.

Your description about people wilfully seeking out biased news coverage (or echo-chamber opinions) is largely correct. But please note that the complaining about Facebook fake-news is not *quite* the same thing. Many people believe that the latter issue *doesn't* require a huge re-education campaign or a change in human psychology. It could be significantly ameliorated by simply adjusting the Facebook backend formulae. After all - the whole reason that we're talking about this issue is because Facebook tweaked its metrics in the *opposite* direction (in favor of clickbait material which creates stronger engagement among users).

Tithian said...

Echo chambers and circlejerks have always been a reality though, even before the internet. Where I live there are a lot of newspapers that cater specifically to the voters of certain parties; if you see someone holding Newspaper X you can always guess what he's voting for in the next elections.

The difference is that up until now, the different echo chambers would report on the same things, but with different tones. For example a center-right wing paper would simply describe a protest against a law, while the communist newspaper would make a huge headline about the protest being against the evil yoke of capitalist businesses. Or whatever. In the end the news was practically the same.

With fake news, what you have is libel/slander, which is a completely different animal. Posting 'news' that Trump/Hilary/whoever is performing satanic rituals and is sacrificing virgins obviously has an agenda and should lead to lawsuits. This is a new phenomenon, as in the past people weren't so shameless about posting any ridiculous thing they could invent, without fearing any consequenses.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right, except that people aren't choosing fake news to avoid the truth. The fake news conforms with their experience while the truth is rejected because it does not. It is a natural behaviour exhibited by every animal due to survivors bias. If a trick of the light causes me to see a scary face I made the correct choice when I away and because I survived. The rational thinkers died out long ago because 1 time in 100 it was a lion and the half a second they took not jumping to conclusions got them killed.
We exist as creatures able to interpret and react to partial information with an amazing degree of accuracy. Unfortunately we are merely "good-enough" that we can get by with minimal internal fact-checking so most people do not get into the habit of thinking rationally. Even the most practiced rational thinkers find it hard work to constantly challenge yourself and frequently fall into traps.
If we cannot always be rational, why put that wasted energy to good use while we outsource the validation to an outside agency? Afterall, past experience shows that they normally agree with you, and they have thousands of like-minded commentators backing them up...

Unknown said...

How is everything NOT leftist-liberal considered fake? It was no problem until mainstream media realized Internet can win elections.

Everything is false to some extent, everything can be labeled fake, it only matters who is doing the labeling. They don't care about truth when they create their own fake stories, do they?

Esteban said...

@dobablo: If a trick of the light causes me to see a scary face I made the correct choice when I away and because I survived. The rational thinkers died out long ago because 1 time in 100 it was a lion and the half a second they took not jumping to conclusions got them killed.

This would be true if we had ever been zebras. We got to where we are now precisely by not running like hell but crouching down in the bushes at a moderate but still risky distance and observing the lion and figuring out what makes him tick.

The dumbarse who looked at a four-metre, ten-tonne mammoth and figured 'okay, but with ten of my clanmates we could actually take him' fed forty people for a week and plenty of sex was had by all. They even fed that moocher and slacker with tiny muscles who spent half his time gazing at the sky and eventually figured out the eclipse and calendar and became shaman and medicine man.

Reason is our primary adaptive trait. It'd be a shame to get rid of it.

Anonymous said...

Fake news is not a new phenomena. In my grandmas day it was called what it is, gossip. Years ago the little old ladies or the house wives or the men at the pub only gossiped among themselves. You soon worked out who was worth ignoring.

In the same way any amateur with a little music talent can now release their new track to the world, now any gossip can distribute their news story to the web. If the true news outlets cant distinguish themselves apart then is their failure. Then again people have always gossiped. As someone above posted it is entertainment.

Provi Miner said...

You are right, I remember a fake news story about a young black who was shot by a racist white guy. although it turned out that the only person who uttered a racist comment (recorded) was the young black, and the white guy turned out to be a minority (in fact a member of a small minority group). Or wait I remember a black motorist shot by a white racist cop in Minnesota. Although it turned out the cop was black, the motorist was armed and had warrants out for his arrest. Fake news is everywhere.

Bosh said...

Of course there's different gradations of "fake" news. Biased and slanted news awash in half truths has been around for as long as there's been news. What's new is stuff made up completely whole cloth without even a germ of truth and that getting widespread attention.

Most new bias isn't about what news is reported, it's about what doesn't get reported.

But stuff like the story about so and so FBI agent who was investigating Hillary's house burning down and their whole family dying. There had never been an FBI agent with that name and there was no fire in the town where it was reported to happen. Just complete fabrication. Got a whole shit ton of views though and made the click bait website some ad revenue.

For example if I report that Ryan Zinke, Trump's nominee for Sec of the Interior is an admitted criminal. That's standard bias, he just had some minor expense report stuff that nobody really cares about. If I say he's admitted to killing babies that's fake news. Something pretty different and there's nothing being biased or slanted, it's just made up.

Anonymous said...

You're completely right that people believe fake news because they want to believe it - it fits their worldview or preconceptions, whatever. It's a well known cognitive bias. However I'm not sure they are aware that it is fake. Quite the opposite. They really believe all kinds of shit, see the idiot that carried a gun to a pizza restaurant to settle some pedophile scandal.