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Fake News


Problem

The real impact of the growing interest in fake news has been the realization that the public might not be well-equipped to separate quality information from false information. In fact, a majority of Americans are confident that they can spot fake news. When Buzzfeed surveyed American high schoolers, they too were confident they could spot, and ignore, fake news online. The reality, however, is that it might be more difficult than people think. Even though the rise of fake news in recent months is undeniable, its impact is a different story. Many argue that fake news, often highly partisan, helped Donald Trump get elected. There was certainly evidence of fake news stories getting a lot of traction on social media, at times even outperforming actual news stories. The problem will only get worse without proper action as more people get their news online and politics becomes more tribal and polarized. Sadly, there's no easy fix to the problem. Tweaking algorithms - something Facebook and Google are trying to do - can help, but the real solution must come from the news consumers. They need to be more skeptical and better-equipped to rate the quality of information that they encounter. A crucial part of that strategy should involve media literacy training and equipping news consumers with tools that will allow them to gauge the legitimacy of the news source, but also become aware of their own cognitive biases (Stecula, 2017).

Background

Algorithms are part of what spreads fake news - because juicy yet false stories which become popular can be pushed out to new eyeballs by the software that runs social networks. But some programmers think computer code could also be part of the solution."From an algorithmic perspective it's possible for social media sites to recognise that website was only created two weeks ago, therefore it's probably likely that this is a less trustworthy site," says Claire Wardle of journalism non-profit First Draft News. Senator Dodd admits not all the detail has yet been worked out, and it it would be the job of the California Board of Education to update the curriculum, but he has some of what might be included, including "trying to discern what the reputation of different sources are."If you are dealing with the BBC or the New York Times, chances are you don't have to go any further, but if you are dealing with some unnamed source, you are going to have to go in a little deeper to determine whether or not that's fact or fiction," he says.And of course, his solution would take years to implement, and would apply to just one state in one country (Wending, 2017).

Solution

Another recent study from Rand and Pennycock (6) also offers some reason for optimism. The researchers gave their subjects a standard test of analytical thinking, the ability to reason from facts and evidence. When the researchers then showed their subjects a selection of actual news headlines, Rand says, "we found that people who are more analytic thinkers are better able to tell real from fake news even when it doesn't align (Stecula, 2017)with their existing beliefs." Better still, he says, this difference existed regardless of education level or political affiliation. Confirmation bias isn't destiny. "If we can teach people to think more carefully," Rand says referring to dubious news content, "they will be better able to tell the difference (PNAS, 2017)."

© Kyle Fourie Gr.12