Did you know that truck drivers in Puerto Rico did NOT actually go on strike during Hurricane Maria relief efforts? Or that a former Obama White House official did NOT actually confirm that they wiretapped Trump Tower? Or that the sexual misdeed accusations against former Senate candidate Roy Moore were NOT actually a setup? Or that the Nazi’s marching (and killing) in Chancellorsville was NOT actually a liberal false flag operation? Or, sadly, that it is NOT true that President Obama is running a “shadow government” in some hidden corner of Washington DC? NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT NOT
Of course you knew that these things are NOT true. But a significant number of people think they are true. These things were spread as fake news, and that fake news was bought hook, line, and sinker by a significant number of people.
What are we going to do about this?
We are going to use SCIENCE to save us, of course.
Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich Ecker, and John Cook (0f Bristol, UWA, and George Mason) just came out with a paper called “Beyond Misinformation: Understanding and Coping with the “Post-Truth” Era.”
This is a part of a larger project these scholars and others have been working on for some time, that springs out of the Climate Change Consensus project, via research on conspiracy ideation, and ultimately landing on the problem of fake news. From the abstract:
Imagine a world that considers knowledge to be “elitist.” Imagine a world in which it is not medical knowledge but a free-for-all opinion market on Twitter that determines whether a newly emergent strain of avian flu is really contagious to humans. This dystopian future is still just that—a possible future. However, there are signs that public discourse is evolving in this direction: terms such as “post-truth” and “fake news,” largely unknown until 2016, have exploded into media and public discourse. This article explores the growing abundance of misinformation in the public sphere, how it influences people, and how to counter it. We show how misinformation can have an adverse impact on society, for example by predisposing parents to make disadvantageous medical decisions for their children. We argue that for countermeasures to be effective, they must be informed by the larger political, technological, and societal context. The post-truth world arguably emerged as a result of societal mega-trends, such as a decline in social capital, growing economic inequality, increased polarization, declining trust in science, and an increasingly fractionated media landscape. Considered against the background lure of individual cognition that can be corrected with appropriate communication tools. Rather, it should also consider the influence of alternative epistemologies that defy conventional standards of evidence. Responses to the post-truth era must therefore include technological solutions that incorporate psychological principles, an interdisciplinary approach that we describe as “technocognition.” Technocognition uses findings from cognitive science to inform the design of information architectures that encourage the dissemination of high-quality information and that discourage the spread of misinformation.
This is good an important work, and will hopefully lead to methodologies to actually filter and fight fake information. I think this work can benefit from further consideration of points made by Shawn Otto in his recent book, The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It, which provides a richer historical and sociological context than Lewandowsky et al do in this paper.
This paper hints that there is more to do in the area of stopping fake news, and suggests a “preferred approach … best described as ‘technocognition’ … the design of information architectures that incorporates principles … to “nudge” against the spread of misinformation, combined with a cognitively inspired program to educate the public and improve journalistic practices.”
I for one will welcome our new Technocogdroids as soon as they arrive!
Sadly, this paper is not available to the unwashed masses, but I promise to write up any and all further work from this team. Stay tuned!