Apparently, we are more gullible than we think.
Buzzfeed conducted a Facebook analysis and found fake news to be the most shared ones with 3 months before the US elections. The vast majority of these are bogus pro-Trump posts or anti-Clinton articles. Determining the actual effect of these news in the outcome of election will never be known. Nonetheless, it’s pretty amusing to think that over 44% of American adults rely on Facebook to get news updates.
Why Fake News Proliferate in the Net?
Buzzfeed reported that the twenty (20) most active election false stories generated 8.7 million shares on Facebook. News from major outlets generated about 7.9 million shares at the same time period. Technically, they took advantage of Facebook’s algorithm that prioritizes engagement. Fake news sites also imitated the professional look of the actual ones and reached a wide audience for a short span of time.
For starters, it’s hard not to get intrigued if we see the following headlines:
- “FBI Agent Behind Clinton Email Leaks Found Dead in Murder-Suicide”
- “Pope Francis Endorses Trump”
- “Terrorist Funds 20% of Clinton’s Campaign”
Create a head-turning headline, spew some nonsense and expect it to float longer in social media. That also means more money for Facebook, granted that more people are getting active there. In fact, a group of teens in Macedonia are making up to $10,000 a day by publishing false pro-Trump news.
Normally, no one defends a fake news. Yet our emotions come into the picture and these blur our logic. Questions of biases are coming up, with poster forcing dissenters to say they belong to the other party. That leads to our next reason.
Voters these days often reward politicians who sit at either end of the ideological spectrum while punishing those seen as compromisers. We also have a primal instinct to go into groups. Humans tend to find those who have the same ideals as them and brand themselves apart from others. In social media, we often share (or like) news that reflect our personal beliefs. What you post does not have to be real – it only needs conform with your followers’ views. Partisanship is a powerful tool to keep the fake news alive. Blinded by allegiance to a group, we dismiss hard facts as interpretation coming from an enemy. Then we enter in discord, especially in politics.
Of course, you say we’re rational enough to distinguish a fake news from a real one. The actual scenario paints the opposite though. Assuming what you posted is a legit article, it goes without saying that you won’t have a problem with it. People may disagree but the news you post becomes a ground for discussion. On the other hand, fake news solicits anger and pro-activeness. They will call you a liar or names, especially when you stand by.
That also reflects in your affiliation to that group. No amount of evidence can disprove your commitment over the bogus article. Then we resort to false dichotomy. We tend to ignore logic and reasons for belief. Since many are willing to trade reputation for commitment, fake news continue to thrive in the internet.
Social Media Vindication
Web giants like Facebook and Google thought the idea of swaying the results of US election due to fake news is absurd. They poised themselves as neutral avenues of information after all. However, they are also given social responsibility to prevent people from believing those that are not true.
Insider reports tell that Facebook might have played a big role for the proliferation of fake news on its site. Contrary to Zuckerberg’s dismissal of the idea, Facebook employees are painfully aware on how these ran wild during the last three months of the campaign season.
The company used to hire professional editors whose job is to curate the trending news feature. Intentional or not, the team began to routinely filter news that are pro-Republican. That resulted to a massive backlash especially those who are right leaning. The team was dismissed and software replaced human editors.
That started the influx of fake news in the newsfeed. With discerning judgment gone, Facebook relied on algorithms for its trending news feature. It wasn’t sophisticated enough to remove fake ones.
Of course, Zuckerberg opted that Facebook will look for new means to filter fake news in its feeds. However, he also disclaimed the site can’t be an arbiter of truth per se. Google has a more aggressive stance. By cutting fake news sites off from access through their PPC platform (Adwords/AdSense), this will deprive them in advertising revenues. With social media becoming people’s avenue to get news, these companies will be put under a great pressure that comes with their power.
People check suspect stories
Because Fecebook was under heavy criticism for having fake news on their social media platform, they started to fight the problem.
One step is the fact that they used International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), a department of Poynter. So now, Facebook users from Germany and US can flag articles they think that are fake. Then this articles will go to the people from IFCN. If the story proves to be fake, IFCN will mark it with a “fake” tag. Facebook won’t delete or stop the shares for this kind of stories, but the “fake” tag will drop the credibility across the social network.
Use algorithms to fight algorithms
Algorithms are responsible for extending fake news on social media. If a article becomes popular, the algorithm behind will push it in our news feed. We’re talking about Big Data. Big Data means that everything we do with our personal computer or phone, even offline, leaves digital marks. Every like, every search leaves psychological traces.
Based on our psychological traces, a team of psychologists created a model that look up to a human being based on the Five Personality Traits, named the “Big Five”. These are: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. How is this working? We’ll give you some examples: men who liked cosmetic brands are slightly to be gay, or men who like Wu-Tang Chan are more likely to be heterosexual, or followers of Lady Gaga are extroverts, while those who liked philosophy tend to be introverts.
This is not only about “likes”, is about how many profile pictures somebody has, or how many friends he/she has on social media. Based on all this info, some news or articles are pushed in your news feed as advertising.
In September, Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica $5 million, rising the sheets of private info. This explains a lot.
Fake news have been around forever, but the internet amplified their presence and importance. No one knows when these will stop. Reasons are far more complicated than what we see at the surface. But can we really fight them? Voice your thoughts in the comments box.