Our Fascination With Fake News…
Way back in 1869, well-diggers in Cardiff, New York unearthed the well-preserved carcass of a man measured to be over 10 feet tall. This body, known as the “Cardiff Giant” became the center of a paid show. Thousands of people flocked to see this miracle, and as news of this giant spread, people began to question – did giants actually exist in the past?
Around a hundred years later, teenagers on both sides of the pond wept openly as they heard the terrible news. Paul McCartney was dead. Apparently, he’d died in a car accident and The Beatles knew their fans would be crushed, so they replaced him with a lookalike. The fans scoured every piece of media they could find to support or disprove this sad – and strange – story.
In 2013, two wine industry impresarios shocked the world when they showed how their new invention could turn a few simple ingredients into wine with just the push of a button. People were excited – this new Miracle Machine meant they could ferment their own wine at home for a fraction of the cost.
All of these stories are outlandish, but perhaps at least a little believable…
And ultimately, all of them are examples of what we used to call hoaxes – but now we refer to it as disinformation or fake news.
Obviously, giants aren’t real, Paul McCarthy is still alive and kicking, and there’s no miraculous way to make wine just yet.
The thing is most people know these things to be true, and yet, for a short amount of time, scads of people bought into the stories – and even shared them so they spread further.
In fact, in the case of the Cardiff Giant, the hoax was even repeated – and believed again – in the same area of New York – only ten years later!
When it comes to disinformation, why are we so quick to buy into it?
What Makes It So Compelling To Pass On?
Back in the day, it was hard to fact check things. That means if you read about something in the newspaper or heard about it from a neighbor, it was probably true…
These days, though, we have the entirety of the internet at our fingertips at all times.
Why do we prefer to read a headline and run with it instead of looking into the issue further before getting upset and sharing it?
Well, the answer to that is three-fold.
First, it turns out we’re not always in charge of what we see. With algorithms getting more sophisticated by the day, the stories we’re served are now highly curated.
With that curation comes undue influence sometimes.
If you want to test it out for yourself, just type the words Joe Biden into the Google search bar. It will bring back suggestions like, Joe Biden CBS, Joe Biden age, and Joe Biden net worth. Pretty harmless stuff, right?
Now perform the same search at duckduckgo.com. The DuckDuckGo search engine promises privacy for its users and uninfluenced search results.
Here’s what they come up with for the search on Joe Biden.
Not quite the same results, are they?
Now, whether you believe that Google is influencing results in order to help liberal candidates or not, one thing is clear.
Different Algorithms Get Different Results
Whatever version of a story you’re going to get depends on where and how you’re getting your information.
It can be hard to clarify whether the story you’re being served is fake or real without a little deep digging.
The second reason why we’re so often victims of fake news is we’re lazy.
In light of that, disinformation can spread easily because people are eager to click the like button, but they’re disinclined to open a new browser tab/// find the search engine of their choice… and dig through the results to get to the bottom of things.
Also, since a lot of disinformation is spread organically on social media, we’re more likely to like or share something that’s already on the platform we’re looking at than we are to search out and share a story on our own.
The third reason why is more clicks equals more money for the media and boring headlines don’t get clicks.
Which means the most salacious stories get the most money… even when they’re not necessarily all that truthful.
Back to the Joe Biden example from above – just a few weeks ago, a truncated video clip with a caption suggesting that the remarks he made in that video were racist appeared on Twitter.
It’s unclear where the message originated from, but it very likely could have been a troll trying to grab attention.
The truth is that his remarks were taken out of context. That didn’t matter, though. The clever editing made it all look so real…
And within hours, the message had been retweeted thousands of times. It even spread off the platform and onto other sites like Facebook and Reddit.
Once that happened, it was impossible to contain. When they noticed the virality of the story, local news sites began to embed it and share it, too.
Was that responsible journalism? Probably not.
Did it get them plenty of clicks? Oh yes.
All in all, that message was seen 1.9 million times.
How many of the people who watched that video actually did the due diligence to look up the validity of the story?
And how many news outlets and individuals who shared it went back and recanted or even apologized for spreading the disinformation?
I’m not aware of any. In fact, can you remember the last time you saw an apology or a retraction published? They’re few and far between.
And yet, despite the fact that we know this is how the news machine currently runs, we allow it.
And It Still Goes On
Sharing stories without any foundation in fact.
Spreading disinformation so often that we have trouble discerning what’s real and what isn’t.
This trend will continue indefinitely until we put a stop to it.
That means we need to be more careful about what media we consume, and especially judicious about what we choose to share.
It’s up to us to hold our media to a higher standard.
When we become better promoters of truth and stop giving fake news the fuel it needs to burn out of control, the media (and the trolls who create false stories just for gags) will get the message.
It’s often said we need to vote with our dollars, and that’s true…
But from here on out, we need to vote with our clicks, too.
Editor, Brian Rose Uncensored