Article by Bobbi B
The Stanford History Education Group undertook research to determine civic online reasoning (media literacy) levels among Students from Middle School through to College. Of the study, they wrote ‘young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.’
According to the study, more than 80% of students believe that a native advertisement, identifiable by the words “sponsored content,” are real news stories!
You may have noticed that, across the last decade, there has been a sharp rise in content creation online. It’s proliferation among internet users would not be possible without Web 2.0 capabilities, however, several other factors have contributed to this trend including smart phones, growth in global internet penetration and habit changes among users.
Is it possible to profile a current day content publisher?
Not so long ago, before the dawn of the self-publishing tools of which there are countless examples, the act of content creation for mass consumption belonged to the few. The populous relied on subject matter experts such as researchers, journalists and marketers to provide them with information on which they could understand the world around them and base their decisions. Among these professions, a responsibility existed to provide factual data. But let’s be honest, except for the research community (who have been wrong unwittingly on occasion unless we reach back into the history of the Middle Ages), how confident are we that the information we were provided with then was as accurate as it seemed?
Content Engagement in an internet era
Content engagement trends vary across demographics such as geography, age, socio-economic background and ethnicity. For example, minorities are more likely to create content to connect with niche communities whilst teenagers are more likely to create content for the purpose of seeking fame. This is not to say that seeking fame is the primary objective of young content creators. To be honest, I’m not sure what is? In the same way, adults are more likely to observe what’s going on whilst young people are more likely to contribute. And, Individuals of lower socio-economic background are more likely to be passive in their approach than those of higher socio-economic backgrounds. These trends are not out of sync with off-line behaviour.
There are several advantages to the medium, or disadvantages, depending on your point of view; Access to a global audience, instant publishing tools and anonymity to name a few.
A Threat to modern day Democracy
At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish. Is this really a new phenomena though?
Of course, it would be irresponsible to suggest that just because the spread of misinformation is as old as human existence itself that we cannot or should not seek to find solutions to curb it. Yes, digital technology allows for more sophisticated means of penetrating society with falsehoods, but it also allows for the means to combat these falsities, at least to some extent.
Hope on the Horizon
Solutions are already emerging that allow consumers some protection from fake news. For example, there is the B.S Detector (http://bsdetector.tech/), a Google chrome and Firefox browser plugin, designed by Daniel Sceradski. This application works by red taping stories from untrustworthy sources. There are several others, similar in nature, making their way into the mainstream, and many more individual besides designing applications for the same purpose.
Are you still with me?
Thanks for keeping the faith.
What of the Future..........
Fake stories enjoyed substantially more engagement during the final weeks leading up to the recent US election than factual ones. But why?
It may be because humans are susceptible to coherency and consistency, something much easier to achieve in a fabricated narrative. We are creatures of reason after all. Unfortunately, reality does not enjoy the benefit of sense making. The real world is complex, confusing, often hidden, hence our propensity to bridge discreet pieces of information with assumptions.
This is why fake news is so good for business. Check out this story on a group of Macedonian Teens whom publish fake news for that very reason.
And so, which future are we headed for?