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Monday, May 17, 2021

Digital Manure

     There is a Facebook meme that claims that back in 2019 Vice President Kamala Harris said Joe Biden was "trash to me." Is that true? 
     The international news organization Reuters employs around 2,500 journalists and 600 photojournalists in about 200 locations worldwide and is one of the largest news agencies in the world. They investigated the claim made in the meme and did not find any instances of Harris saying this about Biden online. 
     Facebook and other social media sites are notorious for spreading false and misleading claims that are intended to sow division. Why are so many vulnerable to misinformation? 
     With social media, there are no editors reviewing what's published and there is no confirmation. When something is published or re-published many people accept it as fact. especially if it is something that falls in line with their biases. 
     It can be hard to spot fake news on social media because nowadays a surprisingly large number of Americans get their news from social media. According to a Pew Research Center report 55 percent of US adults now get their news from social media either often or sometimes. Americans seem to be getting more gullible as it becomes harder to trust what is or is not true on Facebook and other social media platforms. 
     A study from McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin found that social media isn't viewed as more trustworthy, but it is different than TV news or news websites because users do not choose the source of all the articles they see on social media. The report noted that on social media articles come from a wide variety of sources and this can include sponsored articles, which are really paid advertisements. 
     Often this (mis)information is readily shared with friends which simply means that fake news spreads easily. The study found that almost a quarter of social media users shared what turned out to be fake news. What's worse, 60 percent of users said that fake news leaves them confused about what to believe! 
     A lot of fake news comes from advertisements and social media users who create news for financial gain. Look at Yahoo headlines. At least a lot of what appears to be headlines of a news story carries the caveat that it's an ad. 
     The sharing of stories can actually boost the credibility with readers because people may think differently when using social media from how they might think when watching the evening news simply because the story is coming from a friend or family member. 
     One problem is that social media users are looking for pleasure or entertainment and that can make it easier to believe fake news. Research shows the hedonic mindset that comes into play when using social media makes it more difficult for us to think critically and we are less likely to fact-check the information we see.
     Detecting fake news on social media may not be as easy as spotting an outlandish headlines in the tabloids in the grocery store checkout, but it shouldn't be difficult either. The best way to avoid fake news is to not use social media as your primary news source and anything on social media sites should be checked out. Also, did you know that research has found that the mere exposure to headlines makes you believe them more? 
     Even if the headline seems to confirm something you already believe (confirmation bias) it is still advisable to research it. The best thing to avoid being duped is a large dose of skepticism.

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