Archives for posts with tag: fake news

Nicholas D. Kristof writes for the New York Times. In an article entitled “Media should try to fight, not spread, fear and lies,” he had an interesting observation about fake news and biased reporting.

Often information is passed on by the media and everyday people without verifying its truthfulness. Fact checking can be time consuming and tedious but Kristof adds an interesting angle on the way we process information.

According to this journalist, social psychology experiments have found that when people are presented with factual corrections that contradict their beliefs, they may cling to mistaken beliefs more strongly than ever. This is called the “backfire effect.” I had never heard this term before so I decided to check it out.

In 2006, Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler at The University of Michigan and Georgia State University created fake newspaper articles about polarizing political issues. The articles were written in a way which would confirm a widespread misconception about certain ideas in American politics. As soon as a person read a fake article, researchers then handed over a true article which corrected the first.

They repeated the experiment with several “hot button” issues like stem cell research and tax reform. Again they found corrections tended to increase the strength of the participants’ misconceptions. This was consistent even when people on opposing sides of the issue read the same articles and then the same corrections. When new evidence was interpreted as threatening to their beliefs, the corrections backfired. Instead of changing what people believed, their beliefs were strengthened.

This is nothing new. Hundreds of years ago Francis Bacon (1561-1626) said, “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate.”

Psychologist Thomas Gilovich, Professor of Psychology at Cornell University concludes, “When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude.”

I do not intend to suggest that a person should be open to just anything. I am not suggesting that we discard our understanding or position on any issue. I believe there are some absolutes in life. All things are not negotiable. Strong convictions and firm beliefs are desirable but we need to be open to the possibility that there is a different perspective that we have not yet seen. We could be mistaken. Our opinions (beliefs) might be subject to correction. There could be more than one way to look at a particular topic.  

God, help us to be open to truth!

Jamie Jenkins

Did you know that

  • President Obama signed an executive order to remove the phrase “under God” from the U.S. pledge of allegiance.
  • a Republican lawmaker has proposed a saliva test to determine that poor people are actually hungry before they can use food stamps.
  • the Zika virus is being spread by genetically modified mosquitoes.
  • It has been discovered that solar panels are draining the sun of its energy
  • a Nazi submarine has been spotted in the Great Lakes.
  • Miami, Florida has introduced new texting-friendly expressway lanes complete with “safety bumpers” along the sides.
  • the United States has banned the popular game Pokemon Go.

Actually, none of the above statements are true. All of them are fabricated and false.These are just a few examples of “fake news.”

I remember a college classmate showing his innocence or ignorance by declaring, “If it wasn’t true, they wouldn’t put it in the newspaper.” With the proliferation of social media it has become so easy to spread rumors, gossip, and untruths but many people accept them as factual. I suspect my college friend would be one of those to whom the fake news websites would cater.

Image result for IMAGES OF FAKE NEWS

According to one source as much of 60% of the links shared on social media are shared based on the title alone, with the sharer not actually reading the article itself.

Hoaxes, misinformation, and propaganda are routinely and deliberately published. They seek to mislead rather than entertain for financial gain or other reasons. One news source “described the proliferation of fake news as a form of psychological warfare.”

False information is also shared at times through respected media sources, albeit not intentional. At 7:55 PM EST last Friday the Washington Post sparked a wave of fear when it ran the headline “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.”

About an hour and a half later the utility company itself issued a formal statement rejecting the Post’s claims: “We detected the malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems. We took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alerted federal officials of this finding.”

Almost a full hour more the Post finally updated its article and changed the headline. Finally more than a half day later the newspaper added an editorial note at the very bottom of the article acknowledging that the earlier story was incorrect. By that time thousands of people had read and believed that Russian hackers has breached the U.S. electricity grid.

All fake news is not the result of some well-conceived conspiracy produced purposely or some news outlet failing to verify the facts. Ordinary people often post or tweet false information that is then seized on and spread through the internet. One example is 35 year-old Eric Tucker from Austin, Texas. He had about 40 followers on Twitter but during the presidential election campaign he posted that paid protesters were being bused to demonstrations against President-elect Donald Trump.

Mr. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. The problem is that Mr. Tucker got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters. But that didn’t matter. The firestorm had already begun.

There is enough real bad news in the world without fake news causing unnecessary anxiety and harm.

In contrast to fake news or bad news, God taking on human form and becoming one of us is incredibly Good News. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life” (John 3:16, The Message).

Jamie Jenkins