Overwhelmed by Fake News?

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Scientfic American image - "How Fake News Goes Viral - Here's the Math"

Overwhelmed by Fake News?

Category : Blog

No.  I’m not talking about the fake news and fake media that President Trump rants about.  I’m talking about all those postings on social media like Facebook and Twitter that proclaims certain things as fact or that an entertainer has died who really hasn’t.

I pride myself on being able to sniff out fake news, but every once in a while, I fall prey to the fake news being posted.  And it leaves me feeling upset that I fell for it.  After all, I do a lot or work on the web.  I design websites, I monitor various social media accounts, and I teach online.  In fact, I teach my students a unit on how to decide if a website or news item is credible.  I shouldn’t be so easily duped.

There is an article published in Scientific American that made me feel a little better.  Published in July, 2017 and written by Madhusree Makerjee, the article is titled “How Fake News Goes Viral – Here’s the Math.”

It begins with obviously fake headlines like “NASA Runs a Child-Slave Colony on Mars” and “Photos Take by a Chinese Orbiter Reveal an Alien Settlement on the Moon.”  I guess I shouldn’t say obvious since there are people out there who would believe headlines like that.

The article covers how news goes viral, and it hints that our gullibility may simply be that we are overwhelmed with information.  There’s just so much to sort through online that we get overwhelmed and find ourselves having problems discerning fact from fiction.  One computer scientist Filippo Menczer was quoted as saying, “If you live in a world where you are bombarded with junk—even if you’re good at discriminating—you’re only seeing a portion of what’s out there, so you still may share misinformation.”

Scientifically, we have problems because of “the enormous amount of information out there; the limited amount of time and attention people can devote to scrolling through their news feeds and choosing what to share; and the structure of the underlying social networks. All three conspire to spread some of the worst memes [the term Menczer and his colleagues use for a link, video, phrase or other unit of online information] at the expense of the best ones” (Makerjee).

It’s an interesting article, and I encourage you read it and see the math behind the fake news.  Meanwhile, I’ll keep trying not to get hoodwinked by fake news.

 


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