Stopping the spread of COVID-19 misinformation is the best 2021 New Year’s resolution

Anxiety and other negative emotions can cause us to spread misinformation. (Shutterstock)

This article was originally published in The Conversation Canada on January 6, 2021.

As we begin a new year and head back (at least virtually) to work and school, we might be thinking about personal things we would like to improve. Some people resolve to exercise more, stick to a budget or cut out sugar from their diet. Others resolve to write that book, use social media less or volunteer in their communities. These are all great ideas, and I’d like to add another one.

Though we all made our New Year’s resolutions on Jan. 1, I respectfully suggest a January resolution that would, if we each committed to it, produce a large positive impact on society. This year, I resolve — and would like to encourage others to resolve — to stop the spread of misinformation at the individual level.

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Stopping the spread of COVID-19 misinformation is the best 2021 New Year’s resolution

The Master’s Tools: Putting Social Media in its Place

This week Zuckerberg put his foot in his mouth yet again when he said that Facebook’s new approach to free expression was going to ‘piss off a lot of people’ thereby standing up for trolls and bullies rather than creating a safe place for free expression.

By now, we’re all familiar with the problems of an open communication network which allows global reach. It’s easy to game our reptile brains to spread misinformation, hate speech and propaganda. It allows countries to interfere in the democratic communication processes in other countries. At best it serves as a kind of opiate for the masses, providing distractions that take people out of their communities. It’s a tool for capitalistic expansion and the control of knowledge and information flows. And to top it all off, the ads it serves are terrible.

“nuit blanche” by martingautron.com is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

 

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The Master’s Tools: Putting Social Media in its Place

We Are What We Attend To

What are you paying attention to? What do you scroll past on social media, or tune out when someone else is speaking?

A new study published in the journal Vaccine looks at the way different groups responded when confronted with vaccination arguments. In this work, authors Helge Giese, Hansjörg Neth,  Mehdi Moussaïd, Cornelia Betsch, and Wolfgang Gaissmaier from the University of Konstanz, the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, and the University of Erfurt (all in Germany) refute a common assumption held by those who study the communication of sensitive or political topics. The widely-held understanding is that exposure to a message negating a person’s existing point of view, will create a rebound effect that will move their opinion even farther away from the message than where it started. This study contradicts the rebound effect hypothesis, suggesting instead that selective attention means that exposure to a contradictory message has little impact on the person hearing it.

Selective attention can mean ignoring the message entirely, or surrounding oneself with others who do not believe the message. Selective attention can also mean tuning out contradictory messages and only tuning into to messages that confirm existing points of view. We are what we pay attention to.

This message is not new per se, and has existed in some ancient schools of thought, such as buddhism, which suggest that mindfulness has power to shape reality. In this line of thinking, we are both what we pay attention to, and are disempowered when we fail to pay attention. Enlightenment is somewhere close to full attention.

In the case of misinformation spread and polarization, I think we all need to ask ourselves what we’re paying attention to, and what we dismiss because it doesn’t fit our conceptions of the world. We need to pay special attention to what we dismiss. In this case, a little dose of mindfulness directed at our own response to contradictory information will help reduce each one of our tendencies towards polarization and group-think.

What are you attending to? What do you dismiss?

We Are What We Attend To

Snapchat: Putting the media back in social media

Today, Snap CEO Evan Spiegel announced in a CNBC interview that Snapchat has a plan to fact check political ads in an effort to curb misinformation problems currently plaguing many social media sites. Snap will not run ads that its fact checkers have determined are fake, and they’ve banned “political advertising that intends to mislead, deceive, or violate the company’s terms of service”. For those who have been following along, this represents a sharp departure from Facebook’s recently stated policy of allowing all political advertising to run without the hassle of fact checking, as a means of promoting what they say is free speech on the platform. And last week, Twitter announced a sort of middle ground political ad policy in which certain advertisers are banned and issue ads are strictly governed.

 

 

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Snapchat: Putting the media back in social media

The real problem with fake news… is news.

Yesterday, I was asked to appear on a CBC lunchtime call in show to discuss the issue of fake news during election time. Apparently, Vancouver-based polling firm Research Co recently conducted a poll in which two out of five Canadians reported that they had seen “fake news” online. In this case, Research Co defined “fake news” as “stories about current affairs that were obviously false”.

Now we can take Research Co to task for their imprecise definition of fake news here. Many Donald Trump supporters, for example, think that mainstream and reputable news outlets report stories that are “obviously false” and unfortunately, truth seems to rest in the eye of the beholder these days. However, that’s a much longer discussion for another blog post.

What I’d like to do today, is assume that we are seeing false, exaggerated, or misleading news more often than we used to, and I’d like to look at one important driver of misinformation during this particular Canadian election, using the recent rumours about Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister as a sort of case study of the ways media manipulators try to bait established media outlets to spread rumour and innuendo.

“This Soup is So Fake” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0 1.0

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The real problem with fake news… is news.

#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

Canadian political parties have indicated that they intend to use new digital methods to reach potential voters in the upcoming election, including the use of text messaging campaigns.

“Jungle Cupcakes” by DixieBelleCupcakeCafe is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Great idea, I mean what could go wrong? New. Innovative Digital Campaigning – woo!

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#Elxn43: Welcome to the jungle

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

The beginning of knowledge
“The beginning of knowledge” by dvidal.lorente is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to a type of cognitive bias in which people assess their own knowledge of a topic or subject area as being greater than it actually is. Psychologists note that it tends to occur frequently in those people with a small amount of knowledge on a topic. In other words, it takes a certain amount of knowledge before we can actually know how little we know.

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A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

Sunlight: The Promises and Perils of Open Government

Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” as the saying goes, meaning that transparency, or openness is always preferred over the alternative. Whether in business, government, or science. It is often assumed that open information is always better, or as the hacker ethic states “information wants to be free.”

But is open by default really the best approach? Particularly in the area of government? Can we not conceive of information that really should not be freed? Whether for national security purposes, or personal privacy, or even efficiency’s sake?

Light Up The Open

“Light Up The Open”by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Sunlight: The Promises and Perils of Open Government

What if finding your online community hurts others?

The beauty of participatory and social media has always been its ability to connect people. That is also the great evil of these platforms.

Social media allows what Barry Wellman calls networked individualism. In contrast to geographic or familial communities where we are brought together through accidents of fate like where or with whom we were born, networked individuals are not forced to conform to community norms to fit in. Instead, they can use network technologies to maintain their individual quirks and find others who share their unique interests and ideals in online communities. This is a beautiful and terrifying vision.

Frankenstein
“Frankenstein” by Britta Frahm is licensed under CC by 2.0

A year ago today, 10 people were killed and 16 injured when a young man rented a van and drove it onto the sidewalk. The perpetrator engaged in this action, as part of an “incel” or “involuntarily celebate” rebellion. The incel group is a group of men online who openly express misogyny and claim that they should be “given” women to have sex with. The attack targeted women. Incel communities on the internet celebrated following the attack.

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What if finding your online community hurts others?

The Private Turn

Is social media becoming less social?

In early 2018, Facebook users were stunned to learn that Cambridge Analytica had used a loophole in Facebook’s API to harvest data from millions of users who had not given free and informed consent for the use of their data. Prior to this reveal, people around the world were already growing concerned about the spread of fake news and misinformation on social media and how this information may influence elections. This event sent apprehensions into overdrive and even sparked a #DeleteFacebook online movement, of sorts.

Elon Musk backs #DeleteFacebook, and Tesla's and SpaceX's Facebook pages vanish
“Elon Musk backs #DeleteFacebook, and Tesla’s and SpaceX’s Facebook pages vanish” by marcoverch is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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The Private Turn