The Huffington Post conducted a fascinating experiment this week. They crafted an article with a deliberately false headline just to see how many people would share it without even reading it. Thousands did.
The headline, Bernie Sanders Could Replace President Trump with Little-Known Loophole got some people so excited, they just accepted it and sent it to their friends and their social media pages. My pal Jason posted the story knowing full well what it was, and here’s part of the second paragraph.
“There is no loophole that allows a random person to assume the office of president. That’s pretty basic common sense but yet you clicked or even shared this article anyway. Now that right there is the real point of this post.”
Loads of people simply saw hope in this completely manufactured bit of non-news, and passed it on. And that’s a big problem. Just this week I saw people share articles on a miracle cancer cure that eliminates tumours in 11 weeks (bogus), and that Donald Trump won the popular vote in the Presidential election (not true!). I’ve never shared an article without reading it, but it seems I’m in the minority. If it fits in with a person’s world view, they start clicking away.
Have you ever thought about how little your social media pages tell you about the way the world really is? You loathe Trump. One of your friends or followers goes on a rant about how Trump will save the world, so what do you do? You unfollow or block them and remove their opinions from your social media world. Facebook takes note of all this and curates what you see. Little by little, what we’re left with is a social media world that agrees with us and sees things the way we do. That’s not the real world.
Google is taking action now that it ranked that false story about Trump and the popular vote, and it’s going to punish perveyors of false news by keeping their lucrative ads off of those sites. Within hours, Facebook pledged to do the same, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted it won’t be easy. Last summer, Facebook fired the real people – former journalists – who used to oversee and eliminate fake news, and replaced them with an algorithm that’s proven to not be up to the task. They’ll never eliminate fake news, but it’s hoped that there’ll be less of it.
Why isn’t the onus on people to be more discerning? We have Snopes.com where you can check on any fact or fallicy and – I know this is radical – but critical thinking is available to everyone. At the very least, we need to look at the article’s source and ask ourselves if a collection of anonymous journalists on a website we’ve never heard of can possibly be as credible as those at a reputable news outlet where people use their real names and have track records in journalism. The problem isn’t the Internet. The problem, is people.