fake news and collective stupidity

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Cristina Orsini explains how the "fake news frenzy threatens dissent, pointing out that it's "often a catch-all term, used to smear opposing points of view:"

This is why it is crucial for people around the globe to understand the impact that current narratives on fake news and proposed solutions may have on their potential to be active and free citizens, in order to preserve the possibility of dissent and maintain a pluralistic and informative public sphere.

The US is not yet Iran, Egypt, or Brazil, she writes, but "content regulation to fight fake news is concerning activists in what would be considered well-established democracies as well:"

For example, in June last year the German parliament voted for a bill to fine social media platforms that fail to remove illegal content within 24 hours, which can include hate speech and fake news. This triggered concerns over accidental and privatized censorship due to the short time-frame allowed for analysis of each case. Emmanuel Macron started 2018 by announcing that his government is developing rules to crack down on fake news, including the possibility for judges to block accounts.

Orsini continues by noting that "top-down approaches to fake news disregard the existence of propaganda and the fact that misinformation can be spread by governments themselves and used to advance their own interests:"

Letting governments control narratives can result in the homogenization of available information, which would be dangerous for democratic debate, and paradoxical if this was to occur in the name of protecting "truth" itself. [...]

However, investing social media platforms, and thus private companies, with the task of managing content can be extremely problematic. Social media platforms have been criticized for their lack of transparency about the mechanisms and algorithms used to prioritize content, often influenced by the power of money and by a business model based on maximizing clicks for advertisement purposes.

Creeping infotainment is one risk, and another is that "social media platforms can be co-opted by governments:"

For example, Facebook has been removing content published by Palestinian activists at the request of the Israeli government. This has created an asymmetrical social media sphere where hate speech and misinformation by some is removed, but not by others.

"It is perhaps critical thinking itself," she concludes, "that is most deeply challenged by the fake news frenzy:"

In the words of Frank La Rue, a human rights lawyer and assistant director-general for communication and information at UNESCO, "fake news is a trap. Why? Because ... they are trying to dissuade us from reading the news and thinking." In other words, fake news narratives risk making citizens increasingly cynical about information in general, which could result in a sort of agnosticism to news and information. This could lead to public disengagement, a condition in which the powerful go unchallenged and collective action for the defense of citizens' rights becomes harder to achieve. [...]

Most activists seem to agree that if an antidote to fake news exists -- within a truly democratic society where freedom of expression is respected -- it will arrive through education and be based on critical thinking.

Sophia A. McClennen expresses concern that we are a nation of ignoramuses:

In the days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we learned that we weren't just fighting gun violence in our country; we were also fighting bots that were using Facebook and other social media platforms to control the narrative and sow division. Parallel to bot propaganda after the shootings, a similar disinformation campaign popped up after the premiere of "Black Panther," with images of violence circulating on Twitter suggesting that white people weren't welcome at the screenings.

Suddenly the breaking news story is that bots and trolls and other agents of disinformation are not only trying to influence our elections, they are trying to cause conflict among U.S. citizens. And of course, most of the news coverage hysterically suggests that the source of these digital media attacks is primarily Russian.

"The real problem," she tells us, "is that the United States is one of the least intelligent nations in the developed world:"

We aren't good at processing and analyzing information, and that makes us suckers for bots, trolls and all other sorts of disinformation tactics. [...] Study after study shows that the United States underperforms in literacy across the developed world -- especially given its resources. But that isn't even the core issue; the real problem is the way we have consistently devalued quality education across all levels for decades.

Consider the fact that 14 states teach creationism in public schools. Add to that the reality that a Pew Research Study from 2015 found that 34 percent of Americans reject evolution entirely, saying humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.

But it isn't just our knowledge base that's the problem; it's the fact that the United States has effectively abandoned the notion that investing in education is critical for the future of our nation.

The situation is no better after high school, because "The same pattern is true for higher education:"

States continue to slash support for public colleges and universities and funding remains below historic levels. Overall, state funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the 2017 school year was nearly $9 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.

It should come as no surprise that reduced investment in education leads to lower student outcomes and to poorer critical thinking skills. [...]

And as convenient as it might be to turn this into a partisan problem with the Republicans as the stooges and the Democrats as the sharp ones, that approach won't work. Sure, we have considerable data on the gullibility of the Republican brain and the fact that fake news was shared far more often by Republicans, but, in the end, this is a truly bi-partisan problem on a national scale.

"The parties may have their own special brands of ignorance," McClennan observes, "but there is plenty of dumb to go around:"

So before we overly invest energy and resources into shutting down propaganda, hoax news and other forms of disinformation, we should probably make an effort to wise up. Philosopher Steven Nadler wonders if it is even possible to "fix American stupidity," a mindset he describes as intellectual stubbornness. Yet, thus far, we have stubbornly refused to take stock of our own critical thinking failures. The stupidest thing we could do is try to solve this problem by ignoring our own collective stupidity.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on March 4, 2018 9:56 AM.

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