NeuroLogica Blog » The Misinformation Wars

This mental trap has always existed in the human mind, but now there is an actual infrastructure of information that caters to it, reinforces it, and solidifies it. It is not only the pathologically delusional that can fall into this trap. Now anyone who wanders even a little into the badlands can be consumed by it.

The central problem with conspiracy thinking is that it is self-contained, immune from external reality. Any information can be made to seem as if it supports the conspiracy. Any missing information is being suppressed by the conspiracy, and any evidence against the conspiracy was manufactured and is therefore proof of the conspiracy. If you disagree, you are a dupe, or you are part of the conspiracy.

Higher standards of everyday journalism would help.

One problem, however, is that there is an inherent tactical advantage to not caring about the truth at all. The truth is constraining, and if you are free to make up whatever bullshit serves your narrative, this will make you more nimble in the misinformation wars. It is as if one side is using biological and chemical weapons while the other side is limiting itself to conventional weapons and the Geneva Convention.

This is the problem to which I cannot find a solution. The inherent problem is that it is critically important for society to be free and for the media and speech to be free. How do we simultaneously defend free speech while opposing the abuse of that speech to spread targeted misinformation? The usual answer is, to use your own free speech to spread accurate information. But that just gets us back to the fundamental asymmetry.

Source: NeuroLogica Blog » The Misinformation Wars

Can You Tell Fake News From Real? Study Finds Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability : The Two-Way : NPR

Stanford researchers assessed students from middle school to college and found they struggled to distinguish ads from articles, neutral sources from biased ones and fake accounts from real ones.

Most middle school students can’t tell native ads from articles.

Most high school students accept photographs as presented, without verifying them. … Many high school students couldn’t tell a real and fake news source apart on Facebook.

Most college students didn’t suspect potential bias in a tweet from an activist group. … Most Stanford students couldn’t identify the difference between a mainstream and fringe source.

The project began before the recent uproar over the prevalence of fake news online. But its relevance is immediately clear.

Source: Can You Tell Fake News From Real? Study Finds Students Have ‘Dismaying’ Inability : The Two-Way : NPR

What We Are | George Monbiot

Democracy cannot work as it is meant to; human nature does not allow it.

Democracy for Realists, published earlier this year by the social science professors Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, argues that the “folk theory of democracy” – the idea that citizens make coherent and intelligible policy decisions, on which governments then act – bears no relationship to how it really works

we act politically not as individual, rational beings, but as members of social groups, expressing a social identity.

This is not to suggest that it has no virtues, just that they are not the principal virtues we ascribe to it. It allows governments to be changed without bloodshed, limits terms in office, and ensures that the results of elections are widely accepted. Sometimes public attribution of blame will coincide with reality, which is why you don’t get famines in democracies.

This is not to suggest that the folk theory of democracy comes close to reality anywhere, but that the situation is not as hopeless as they propose.

Persistent, determined, well-organised groups can bring neglected issues to the fore and change political outcomes. But in doing so they cannot rely on what democracy ought to be. We must see it for what it is. That means understanding what we are.

Source: What We Are | George Monbiot

Facebook extremism and fake news: How Facebook is training us to be conspiracy theorists — Quartz

The first problem is that saying is believing. This is an old and well-studied phenomenon, though perhaps understudied in social media. So when you see a post … and you retweet or repost it, it’s not a neutral transaction. You, the reposter, don’t end that transaction unchanged.

It’s worthwhile to note as well that the nature of social media is we’re more likely to share inflammatory posts than non-inflammatory ones

from Facebook’s perspective they have two goals, and neither is about the quality of the community or well-being of its members. The first goal is to keep you creating Facebook content in the form of shares, likes, and comments. … The second Facebook goal is to keep you on the site at all costs, since this is where they can serve you ads.

There will be a lot of talk in the coming days about this or that change Facebook is looking at. But look at these two issues to get the real story:

  • Do they promote deep reading over interaction?
  • Do they encourage you to leave the site, even when the link is not inflammatory?

The larger problem is the far larger number of people who see the headlines and do not reshare them. Why is this a problem? Because for the most part, our brains equate “truth” with “things we’ve seen said a lot by people we trust.” The literature in this area is vast—it’s one of the reasons, for example, that so many people believe that global warming is a hoax.

Source: Facebook extremism and fake news: How Facebook is training us to be conspiracy theorists — Quartz

How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts – The Atlantic

Modern slot machines develop an unbreakable hold on many players—some of whom wind up losing their jobs, their families, and even, as in the case of Scott Stevens, their lives.

Even by the estimates of the National Center for Responsible Gaming, which was founded by industry members, 1.1 to 1.6 percent of the adult population in the United States—approximately 3 million to 4 million Americans—has a gambling disorder. That is more than the number of women living in the U.S. with a history of breast cancer. The center estimates that another 2 to 3 percent of adults, or an additional 5 million to 8 million Americans, meets some of the American Psychiatric Association’s criteria for addiction but have not yet progressed to the pathological, or disordered, stage.

Source: How Casinos Enable Gambling Addicts – The Atlantic

Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the facts — Quartz

“They dispute each other not on priorities but on objective reality.”

In short, Democrats and Republicans don’t so much disagree about where to take the country, they disagree about which country they would be taking.

To any political scientist, this is not news. Survey data has long shown that factual claims often reflect partisan sympathies more than they do reality.

I think news organizations are missing opportunities. Everyone seems to publish a dozen polls a month highlighting American disagreements over subjective opinions. Why not publish more stories doing the same about factual opinions—and then take pains to describe the actual truth? If the idea is to shock and amaze people, I think factual surveys will likely do the trick.

Source: Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the facts — Quartz

Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear – Rolling Stone

This is the safest time in human history. So why are we all so afraid?

“What we’re talking about is anxiety, not fear,” LeDoux says. Where fear is a response to a present threat, anxiety is a more complex and highly manipulable response to something one anticipates might be a threat in the future. “It is a worry about something that hasn’t happened and may never happen,” says LeDoux.

This may seem like a small distinction. But in actuality, it is everything. Because where fear is about a danger that seems certain, anxiety is, in LeDoux’s words, “an experience of uncertainty.”

And that uncertainty is the exact lever that politicians regularly use to try to influence your behavior.

The goal, however, is to separate real threats from manufactured ones. And to find a balance where we are not so scared that we’re making bad decisions that hurt us and our freedom, but not so oblivious that we aren’t taking steps to protect ourselves.

Source: Why We’re Living in the Age of Fear – Rolling Stone

Breakthrough Study Explains Why We Arrest Moms for Putting Kids in Nearly Non-Existent ‘Danger’ – Hit & Run : Reason.com

Moral disapproval trumps facts.

But even the results of the mom-only surveys seem to show that Americans believe the only decent way to raise a child is with a full-time mother never taking her eyes off her kids. Only June Cleaver types get a pass.

Anyone else—impoverished moms, single moms, moms with big families—are seen as putting their kids in danger simply because they cannot directly supervise every kid every second.

Source: Breakthrough Study Explains Why We Arrest Moms for Putting Kids in Nearly Non-Existent ‘Danger’ – Hit & Run : Reason.com