Fake News Expert On How False Stories Spread And Why People Believe Them

In particular, there’s a huge cluster of websites in English about health issues because they find that that content does really well.

And if they sign up, for example, for Google AdSense, an ad program, they can get money as people visit their sites and it’s pretty straightforward. So they tried election sites, and over time they all came to realize that the stuff that did the best was pro-Trump stuff. They got the most traffic and most traction.

.. And I think there was an element almost – in some of the people I was speaking to, there was almost an element of pride saying, you know, we’re here in this small country that most Americans probably don’t even think about, and we’re able to, you know, put stuff out and earn money and to run a business. And I think there was a bit of pride in that. One of the people that I spoke to, who was a bit older – he was in his 20s – you know, he said that yeah, I mean, people know that a lot of the content is false. But that’s what works.

.. They all said that when it came down to it, the fake stuff performed better on Facebook. And if you weren’t doing some stuff that was misleading or fake, you were going to get beat by people who were.

.. And then the other type of content that performed really well was, you know, memes, like a photo that just sort – kind of expressed a very partisan opinion. These – you know, they weren’t necessarily factually based, but they really kind of riled up the base. And for the pages that were partisan pages on the right and the left, if you had stuff that really appealed to people’s existing beliefs – really appealed to, you know, a negative perception of Hillary Clinton, a negative perception of Donald Trump – even if it, you know, completely bent the truth, that would perform much better than a sort of purely factual thing.

.. So at the core of this is – there’s two factors that are at play here. So one is a human factor and one is kind of a platform or algorithmic factor. So on the human side, there’s a lot of research out there going back a very long time that looks at sort of how humans deal with information. And one of the things that we love as humans – and this this affects all of us. We shouldn’t think of this as just being something for people who are very partisan. We love to hear things that confirm what we think and what we feel and what we already believe. It’s – it makes us feel good to get information that aligns with what we already believe or what we want to hear.

.. And on the other side of that is when we’re confronted with information that contradicts what we think and what we feel, the reaction isn’t to kind of sit back and consider it. The reaction is often to double down on our existing beliefs. So if you’re feeding people information that basically just tells them what they want to hear, they’re probably going to react strongly to that. And the other layer that these pages are very good at is they bring in emotion into it, anger or hate or surprise or, you know, joy. And so if you combine information that aligns with their beliefs, if you can make it something that strikes an emotion in them, then that gets them to react.

.. And that’s where the kind of platform and algorithms come in. Which is that on Facebook, you know, the more you interact with certain types of content, the more its algorithms are going to feed you more of that content. So if you’re reading stuff that aligns perfectly with your political beliefs, it makes you feel really good and really excited and you share it, Facebook is going to see that as a signal that you want more of that stuff. So that’s why the false misleading stuff does really well is because it’s highly emotion-driven.

.. Whereas when you come in as the debunker, what you’re doing is actively going against information that people are probably already, you know, willing to believe and that gets them emotionally. And to tell somebody I’m sorry that thing you saw and shared is not true is you coming in in a very negative way unfortunately.

And so the reaction is often for people to get defensive and to disagree with you. And just in general you just seem like kind of a spoil sport. You’re ruining the fun or you’re getting in the way of their beliefs. And a lot of times when I put debunkings out there, you know, some of the reactions I get are people saying, well, it might as well be true. You know, he could have said that or that could have happened. Or, of course, you get accusations that, you know, you’re biased. And so the debunkings just don’t appeal as much to us on a psychological level. There’s some emotional resistance to wanting to be wrong. That’s a very natural human thing. And they’re just not as shareable because the emotion there isn’t as real and raw as something that makes you angry, for example.

.. So the one that comes to mind right away, this is a story that was on a website that is made to look like ABC News but its domain is slightly different. And the story that was published, you know, long before the election claimed that a protester had been paid $3,500 to go and protest at Trump rally. And this fed into perceptions that the people who are against Trump were being paid by big interests.

And that story did pretty well on Facebook. It got a fair amount of engagement. But it was tweeted by Eric Trump. It was tweeted by Corey Lewandowski, who was a campaign manager for Donald Trump, and it was tweeted by Kellyanne Conway, who was his campaign manager, not that long before the election. So when you have people in positions of power and influence putting out fake news – and I want to say, you know, there’s no evidence that they knew it was fake and put it out there to fool people. I think in each case they genuinely believed it was true because, as we’ve discussed, I think it fed into the message their campaign wanted to put out.


One that was really popular actually was one that falsely claimed he had given a quote to People magazine many years ago basically saying that if I ever ran for president, I would run as a Republican because conservatives are so stupid they’ll believe anything. And this was turned into a meme.

It spread a lot on Facebook. It was debunked so many times. We debunked it at BuzzFeed. Snopes has debunked it. And it just kept going and going and going because this is something I think a lot of Democrats wanted to believe.

.. But – so I think anyone who believes that fake news won Trump the election is wrong. There’s no data to support that. And I say this as somebody who’s been looking at this data in a lot of different ways. There’s no smoking gun. There’s – I don’t think we’ll ever get it.

.. 75 percent of the time, the Americans who were shown a fake news headline and had remembered it from the election believed it to be accurate.

And that’s a really shocking thing. It’s impossible to go the next step and say, well, they voted because of that. But I think one of the things this election has shown is that people will believe fake news, misinformation will spread and people will believe it and it will become part of their worldview.

Investors have a hard time looking the truth square in the face

Psychologists call this behavior “information avoidance.” You could also call it intentional ignorance.

“It’s a motivated decision to say ‘no’ to learning available but unwanted information,” says Jennifer Howell, a psychologist at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, who studies the phenomenon. “People avoid information if it’s going to make them feel or behave or think in a way they don’t want to” — especially any evidence that could jeopardize their belief in their competence and autonomy or could require taking difficult or prolonged action.

.. investors check the value of their financial assets much less frequently, on average, in down markets — a behavior the researchers call the ostrich effect.”

.. you can’t tell whether your ideas are valid unless you let them be challenged.

Just as the most partisan voters — of all stripes — shouldn’t remain deaf and blind to evidence that their favorite politicians might be wrong, investors would spare themselves embarrassment and loss by confronting information instead of hiding from it.

.. Finally ask: What conditions or circumstances would it take for me to be proven wrong? If your answer is “none” or “that’s impossible,” you have a severe case of information avoidance. The only cure for that might be the shock of losses that come at you like a bolt from the blue.

Sheryl Sandberg: How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss

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Trump’s Method, Our Madness

have experienced a form of disorientation and anxiety that bears a striking resemblance to the clinical situation I have described. And recent events indicate that this feeling is not going to abate any time soon.

.. Just as disorientation and bewilderment tell analysts something significant about what they are experiencing in the clinical setting, so too our confusion and anxiety in the face of Trumpism can tell us something important about ours.

.. it entails a systematic — and it seems likely intentional — attack on our relation to reality.

.. anti-fact campaigns, such as the effort led by archconservatives like the Koch brothers to discredit scientific research on climate change, remained within the register of truth.

.. To assert that there are “alternative facts,” as his adviser Kellyanne Conway did, is to assert that there is an alternative, delusional, reality in which those “facts” and opinions most convenient in supporting Trump’s policies and worldview hold sway.

.. Surkov has a background in avant-garde theater and is a devotee of postmodern culture, and has adopted theatrical and artistic techniques of “subversion” to unleash a full frontal attack on Russian society’s sense of reality.

.. his “fusion of despotism and postmodernism” comprises “a strategy of power based on keeping any opposition there may be constantly confused,” creating “a ceaseless shape-shifting that is unstoppable because it’s indefinable.” To keep his opponents off-balanced and powerless, he might, for example, sponsor “nationalist skinheads one moment” and “human rights groups the next.”

In a similar vein, Surkov could have provided the seating arrangements for the N.S.C., where Bannon, a right-wing white nationalist who has provided a platform for anti-Semites, sits on one side of Trump, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, an orthodox Jew, sits on the other.

.. By continually contradicting himself and not seeming to care, Trump generates confusion in the members of the media and political opposition that has often rendered them ineffectual, especially in speaking to those outside the liberal base. They were slow to realize that he was playing by a different set of rules.

.. He has proved adept at deflecting well-intentioned fact-checking, regardless of how often it has caught him in a contradiction, and rational counterarguments, which can bounce off him like rubber.

.. there has recently been a robust and energetic attempt .. to call out and counter Trumpism’s attack on reality.

.. work with more disturbed patients can be time-consuming, exhausting and has been known to lead to burnout. The fear here is that if the 45th president can maintain this manic pace, he may wear down the resistance and Trump-exhaustion will set in, causing the disoriented experience of reality he has created to grow ever stronger and more insidious.