Fake News: Data Mining & Disingenuity Effecting Your News Results

By: Brad Buchanan | bbuchanan@newzgroup.com

It is tough to read the news in today’s political climate without hearing about “fake news.” Oftentimes when a public figure clamors “fake news,” they are attempting, poorly, to cover up their own solecisms or wrong-doings. The other news is demonstrably false and needs to be outed as such. But how can we tell the difference?

Account for Bias

First, we must recognize our own confirmation biases and how it informs our daily lives. We tend to believe information that supports our pre-existing beliefs and gels with our overall experiences and worldviews. Confirmation bias is called “the mother of all biases” in psychology textbooks, and with good reason: we readily accept the things we want to believe and reject those we don’t, often without much introspection about our own prejudices. To get anywhere near the truth, recognizing our inherent predispositions.

Next, we should acknowledge the complexity of the matter. We tend to think in black and white terms, up or down, on or off, truth or fiction, when in fact the world does not appear in black or white – it is in color, which is much more difficult to define with all its shadows and highlights. No one tells the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, all the time. But some are much better than others. During World War II, Winston Churchill was not above embellishment when it served his purposes, but he was much more truthful than Stalin, who was slaughtering his own people while painting a picture of Russia as a tranquil paradise.

That complexity extends to newspapers as well. Some in the media make honest mistakes while others engage in outrageous falsehoods. Hopefully, most people trust the Washington Post more than The World Weekly News, which once headlined “Magic Healing Bananas from Outer Space.” According to the article, they even cure cancer! My point is that some news outlets are much more credible than others.

Cite Your Sources

Then there is the importance of corroboration, sources matter. The more often a story is repeated by credible reporters, the more likely it is true. Social media has made corroboration more difficult, because a false story may be repeated, retweeted, or regurgitated by many different people and ill meaning outlets set out to sow discourse. In fact-checking, it is important to utilize many diverse sources and determine which are more accurate. Corroboration from diverse credible sources is critical, repetition and ubiquity are useful in making the fake news seem real.

The power and influence of fake news can be vast. When it comes to loyalty tests, for example, knowing who is with me and who is against me, falsehoods have a distinct advantage in uniting people. It may seem counter-intuitive, but if I used this article to convince people there actually are magic healing bananas from outer space, only the true loyalists would believe me. These people would stand by me no matter what. But what about those who rejected my claim, calling it bunk? These people would be my opponents…my enemies. If they can only be led to believe with substantiated facts, how does this show allegiance?

Data Mining 

Now, let me offer you a hypothetical deal: I will pay you $20 a month to read the Newz Blog every day so I can brainwash you about the truth of magic healing bananas from outer space. Not such a good deal? Any takers?

Well, how about this? You will allow me to monitor your internet usage and discover your political leanings, where you live, the sites you visit, what you purchase, who you communicate with. I will put up articles that support and bolster everything in which you believe, things that bring comfort, make you laugh, and help you feel better about yourself — all for free! Sounds great, right? Ready to make a deal?

Unconsciously, people make this deal every day. All their private information is bundled up and sold to advertisers, retailers, scammers, and purveyors of fake news. Rather than taking $20 and reading what they know is hogwash, they would rather receive positive reinforcement, at ostensibly no charge…just that tiny, little, pesky personal information. Instead of buying products, the people are products.

Once I have all this personal information, I can devise a marketing plan to sell you magic healing bananas from outer space. And they even cure cancer!

Some Solutions

If that doesn’t sound appealing, how about I offer instead Newz Group’s Client Portal? Combat the scourge of fake news with our comprehensive, hyperlocal and affordable visual representations of the coverage you need. You can see where in the state(s) you are receiving coverage. Get deeper insights into what people are saying about your company or organization and its reach in the media. Run customized reports of individual keywords to illustrate when and where your coverage appeared in print, online, social media or broadcast. We’ve been Helping You Find You for two decades, don’t hesitate to reach out! Bananas not included.