2016 was a harrowing example of the polarising consequences of misinformation, marked by key events such as the US elections and Brexit. Since then, news providers (i.e Facebook, Google) have taken steps to address the issue.
The combination of our natural instinct to seek information that align with our own views, the algorithm of our news providers and their ability to target specific groups of people (Buchanan, 2017) has unwittingly made social media an environment fit for misinformation to thrive. It is also interesting to note that the effects of fake news persist even after the misinformation has been debunked (Chan et al., 2017).
It’s tempting to say that since the technology that encourages the pervasiveness of misinformation is based on our behaviour, that we are largely responsible for curating our news and assessing its reliability. After all, the type of content consumed on Facebook is strongly affected by the tendency of users to limit their exposure to just a few sites. (Schmidt et al., 2017)
However, not all internet users are digitally literate enough to assess the authenticity of online content. In fact, it is this group of people that purveyors of misinformation tend to target, as they are more likely to spread fake news to other people (Buchanan, 2017).
Furthermore, fake news can manifest in reliable sources. A recent example – Trump’s photo dumping fish food into a koi pond was reported out of context by several news outlets.
(Source: Mothership.sg, 2017)
The incident also showed us how the pressure to agree with the majority can contribute to the spread of fake news. (Sustein, 2017)
Therefore, efforts to overcome a post-truth society should be conscious of two things: the digital, information and data literacy of the individual as well as the environment the information lives in.
(Information from Futurelearn, 2017 and Chan et al., 2017)
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Buchanan, M. (2017). Why Fake News Spreads So Fast on Facebook. [online] Bloomberg.com. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-08-31/why-fake-news-spreads-so-fast-on-facebook [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
Chan, M., Jones, C., Hall Jamieson, K. and Albarracín, D. (2017). Debunking: A Meta-Analysis of the Psychological Efficacy of Messages Countering Misinformation. Psychological Science, 28(11), pp.1531-1546.
FutureLearn. (2017). Data Literacy – Learning in the Network Age – University of Southampton. [online] Available at: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-network-age/3/steps/263023 [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
FutureLearn. (2017). Information Literacy – Learning in the Network Age – University of Southampton. [online] Available at: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-network-age/3/steps/263022 [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
FutureLearn. (2017). Media Literacy – Learning in the Network Age – University of Southampton. [online] Available at: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-network-age/3/steps/263021 [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
Mothership.sg. (2017). Mainstream media worldwide report fake news about Trump dumping food on koi fishes. [online] Available at: https://mothership.sg/2017/11/fake-news-donald-trump-feed-fish-food/ [Accessed 15 Nov. 2017].
Schmidt, A., Zollo, F., Del Vicario, M., Bessi, A., Scala, A., Caldarelli, G., Stanley, H. and Quattrociocchi, W. (2017). Anatomy of news consumption on Facebook. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(12), pp.3035-3039.
Sunstein, C.. (2017). #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. [S.l.]: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRES, pp.100 – 101.