Jamie L. Manser
LIS 518 – Information Quality
Week 5: Quality Control
We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge. – Tom Waits interviews Tom Waits
During this last election season, an avalanche of fake news on the candidates crammed social media, outperforming fact-based news stories in terms of Facebook engagements (defined as shares, reactions and comments). According to BuzzFeed Founding Editor Craig Silverman’s article, in the last three months of the election, “20 top-performing false election stories from hoax sites and hyperpartisan blogs generated 8,711,000” Facebook engagements, compared to the 7,367,000 Facebook engagements “from 19 major news websites,” a difference of 1,344,000 engagements.
In response, Google and Facebook were scrutinized for their role in the spreading of misinformation and those companies pledged to take “pointed aim at fake news sites’ revenue sources,” according to a New York Times article published Nov. 14, 2016.
A letter to the editor in response to the Nov. 14, 2016 New York Times article, from Mark Bessoudo of Toronto, poignantly points out that it is insufficient to solely blame Google and Facebook when “we aren’t ever taught how to think clearly. Most people are unaware of our hard-wired cognitive biases. We aren’t trained how to spot logical fallacies in our own arguments and the arguments of others. It takes time and persistence to overcome these obstacles, and most people just don’t have the luxury or the interest to put in the effort.”
Not only are people unable to recognize their biases, nor do they have time to sort it out, they also have a hard time recognizing and rejecting lies. However, Rbutr’s Shane Greenup argues that to destroy false beliefs, “rbutr is going to actively share the stuff false beliefs are made from: misinformation” in order to help people whose minds are not yet made up.
Greenup points out that keeping misinformation out there is important for several reasons, but not the least that if Google only allowed access to true, verifiable facts online it would backfire since “most hold beliefs which have no basis in reality,” and users would declare Google untrustworthy because “people don’t respond well to being told they are wrong… So when an application tells people repeatedly that they are wrong, they will stop using that app.”
While it is understandable that Google is going to do what Google needs to do to keep its users, what is the role of the news media in sharing, or not sharing, lies (untruths, alternative facts, falsehoods)? Is it appropriate to print falsehoods when that actually helps cement untruths in people’s minds?
According to a Politico Magazine piece by Maria Konnikova, processing a lie takes work because our brains first hold it as true. Konnikova shares what Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert wrote about human minds: “when faced with shortages of time, energy, or conclusive evidence, (people) may fail to unaccept the ideas that they involuntarily accept during comprehension.” Simply, we believe the lie. Additionally, repetition – in any capacity – helps cement the lie. The lying liar states it over and over again, and – unfortunately – “the really bad news for all of those fact-checkers and publications hoping to counter Trump’s false claims: Repetition of any kind — even to refute the statement in question — only serves to solidify it,” wrote Konnikova.
- What kind of quality control can/should information publishers have? (Probably depends on their motivation and POV).
- Is it appropriate to publish lies, in light of the fact that people will easily believe them, even if the goal is to refute the lies?
- Do you think that, as Frederick Schauer is quoted as stating in Goldman’s article, “an invisible hand (will) ensure that the best ideas emerge when all opinions are permitted freely to compete”?
- Hilton, Robin. 2008. “Tom Waits Interviews Tom Waits.” NPR, All Songs Considered.
- Silverman, Craig. 2016. “This Analysis Shows How Viral Fake Election News Stories Outperformed Real News On Facebook.” BuzzFeed.
- Wingfield, Nick, et. al. 2016. “Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake News Sites.” New York Times.
- Bessoudo, Mark. 2016. “Letter to the Editor.” New York Times.
- Greenup, Shane. 2014. “Why rbutr must share misinformation…” Rbutr.
- Konnikova, Maria. 2017. “Trump’s Lies vs. Your Brain.” Politico Magazine.
- Goldman, Alvin. 2015. “Social Epistemology.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.