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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Monday Wake Up Call – Fake News Edition

The Daily Escape:

On Facebook, this photo is said to be a view from 30,000 ft. of the California fires. But, it’s fake news. In reality, it’s a sunset over Albuquerque. The pic has been on the internet for months. Why would someone lie to their Facebook “friends”, about a picture of the fires?

What has happened to our society that lying about something like the CA fires seems worth the trouble?

Fake news has always been with us, but we’re reaching the point where we no longer can tell truth from fiction without considerable effort. The Atlantic had a story in March about an ambitious and first-of-its-kind MIT study published in Science: (emphasis by Wrongo)

The massive new study analyzes every major contested news story in English across the span of Twitter’s existence—some 126,000 stories, tweeted by 3 million users, over more than 10 years—and finds that the truth simply cannot compete with hoax and rumor. By every common metric, falsehood consistently dominates the truth on Twitter, the study finds: Fake news and false rumors reach more people, penetrate deeper into the social network, and spread much faster than accurate stories.

The leader of the MIT study, Soroush Vosoughi, an MIT data scientist who has studied fake news since 2013, offered this:

It seems to be pretty clear [from our study] that false information outperforms true information…And that is not just because of bots. It might have something to do with human nature.

And the data are truly scary. According to the study, false stories reach 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does. And while false stories outperform the truth on every subject—including business, terrorism and war, science and technology, and entertainment, it probably isn’t news that fake news about politics regularly does the best at outperforming real news:

Twitter users seem almost to prefer sharing falsehoods. Even when the researchers controlled for every difference between the accounts originating rumors—like whether that person had more followers or was verified—falsehoods were still 70% more likely to get retweeted than accurate news.

One of the more disturbing findings was that fake news consistently reaches a larger audience, and it tunnels much more deeply into social networks than real news does. Why do fake news tweets do so well? The MIT team settled on two hypotheses:

  • First, fake news seems to be more “novel” than real news. The study found that falsehoods are often notably different from all the tweets that have appeared in a user’s timeline 60 days prior to their re-tweeting them
  • Second, fake news evokes much more emotion than the average tweet. The researchers found that fake tweets tended to elicit words associated with surprise and disgust, while accurate tweets used words associated with sadness and trust.

The key takeaway is really that content that arouses strong emotions spread further, faster, more deeply, and more broadly, than real news on Twitter.

Most depressing is that users who share accurate information have more followers, and send more tweets than fake-news sharers. They are more likely to be verified Twitter users. In short, the most trustworthy users have every obvious structural advantage that Twitter can give its best users.

And they still fail to connect as efficiently.

We have to wake up. Social media is amplifying falsehood at the expense of the truth, and no one knows how to reverse the trend.  We are living in a dangerous moment for a political system that relies on truth as a knowable reality shared by all Americans.

To help you wake up, we have a tune dedicated to Paul Manafort, Bob Dylan’s “Leopard Pill-Box Hat”. Manafort’s trial is revealing his penchant for purchasing, and wearing wild articles of clothing. Many Trump supporters are saying that Manafort had nothing to do with the Russian hacking, and no matter, he’ll be acquitted.

Both of those ideas are fake news.

There are very few good videos of Dylan performing his work. This is from the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert in October, 1992. Here, John Mellencamp performs his best impression of Dylan:

We will have to wait and see if Manafort, or any others in the Trump administration go to jail. Wrongo hopes that’s the case. If it happens, it will be a novel event: We didn’t send Nixon to prison for his crimes, we didn’t send Reagan to prison for his crimes, and we didn’t send Bush or Cheney to prison for their crimes ─ so we ended up with Mr. Fake News himself, Donald Trump.

When there is no punishment for the crimes, the criminals see no reason to stop their behavior.

Sample Lyric:

Well I, see you got your
Brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Yes I, see you got your
Brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
Well, you must tell me, baby how your
Head feels under somethin’ like that.

Those who read the Wrongologist in email can view the video here.

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