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Faculty: Fake News and Information Literacy: Why is Fake News an Issue?

Prepared for Brown Bag Session October 2017

Why should you be concerned with fake news?

The issue of fake news rose to the forefront during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, when it was reported that over 100 websites were created to disseminate false information about American politics by a group of enterprising Macedonian teenagers. Even though fake news and hoaxes have existed for many years, been around for many years, the 2016 elections seemed to expand the proliferation increase the awareness of fake news among the American public. Evaluating information has never been more important.

The information contained on these websites were shared hundreds of thousands of times by Facebook and other social media users who naturally believed it to be true.

It looked real and no one would ever dare to post wrong or misleading information on the Internet!!!

Did everyone who shared these fake news stories believe what they read? Did all this fake news influence the voting electorate? 

Making an informed decision requires accurate information from credible and reliable sources. Decisions made with wrong or inaccurate information are often regrettable.

Sharing information with out critically evaluating it contributes to the proliferation of fake news and may even severely damage your credibility. Anyone can get fooled by fake news, because of how it is presented, but the more fake news you share the less credible you will appear.

Dangers of Fake News

How much of a newspaper article do you read? According to a study conducted by the Media insight Project in 2014, Americans read headlines and not much else. According to another study, 75% of American adults who viewed a fake news story believed it was accurate, you can read about this study here.

While a study of 7800 students from middle school through college conducted by Stanford University in 2016 revealed that more than 80% of the students surveyed could not differentiate fake news from real news. Click here for a summary of the study.

Why do we fall for Fake News?

We often times fall victims to fake news because it appeals to us on an emotional level or it aligns with a preconceived opinion on the topic or subject. 

The Oxford Dictionary defines Confirmation Bias as "the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories." (from Oxford Dictionaries, Definition of  Confirmation Bias                          https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/confirmation_bias)

Another definition provided by Scott Plous in The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making states that "Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities (from Wikipedia, Confirmation Bias https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias​). He also states in an interview that Confirmation Bias is "...the tendency to seek out and give greater weight to information that confirms what we think rather than contradicts." (from http://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2014/09/02/plousbrown/.

While Lea-Rachel D. Kosnik defines it as "...the tendency to misinterpret new pieces of evidence as confirming previously held hypotheses..." (from http://www.umsl.edu/~kosnikl/CBPaper.pdf

More Readings:

Why Do We Fall for Fake News? By S. Shyam Sundar, Pennsylvania State University | LiveScience

Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion By Michael Barthel, Amy Mitchell, and Jesse Holcomb | Pew Research Center

Literally Unbelievable "Least Helpful: The Internet's Worst Reviewers"