Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Climbing Mount Stupid

So the long-awaited "Fake News Awards," intended to highlight the "most DISHONEST and CORRUPT members of the media," were announced yesterday.

Or at least, Donald Trump attempted to announce them.  Under a minute after the announcement was made, the site crashed, and last I checked, hadn't been fixed.  But a screen capture done before the site went down lets us know who the winners were.  They seem to fall into two categories:
  1. Simple factual misreporting, 100% of which were corrected by the news agency at fault after more accurate information was brought forth.
  2. Anyone who dared to criticize Donald Trump.
Unsurprisingly, this included CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times.  The tweetstorm from Trump hee-hawing about how he'd really shown the press a thing or two by calling them all mean nasty poopyhead fakers ended with his mantra "THERE IS NO COLLUSION," which is more than ever seeming like "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

So far, this is unremarkable, given that accusing everyone who disagrees with him of lying, while simultaneously claiming that he is always right, has been part of Trump's playbook ever since he jumped into politics.  But just last week a study, authored by S. Mo Jang and Joon K. Kim of the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, brought the whole "fake news" think into sharper focus.  Because their research has shown that people are perfectly accepting that fake, corrupt news media exist...

... but that people of the other political party are the only ones who are falling for it.

The study, which appeared in Computers in Human Behavior, was titled, "Third Person Effects of Fake News: Fake News Regulation and Media Literacy Interventions."  The authors write:
Although the actual effect of fake news online on voters’ decisions is still unknown, concerns over the perceived effect of fake news online have prevailed in the US and other countries.  Based on an analysis of survey responses from national samples (n = 1299) in the US, we found a strong tendency of the third-person perception.  That is, individuals believed that fake news would have greater effects on out-group members than themselves or in-group members.  Additionally, we proposed a theoretical path model, identifying the antecedents and consequences of the third-person perception.  The results showed that partisan identity, social undesirability of content, and external political efficacy were positive predictors of the third-person perception.  Interestingly, our findings revealed that third-person perception led to different ways of combating fake news online.  Those with a greater level of third-person perception were more likely to support the media literacy approach but less likely to support the media regulation approach.
Put more simply, people tended to think they were immune to the effects of fake news themselves -- i.e., they "saw through it."  The other folks, though, were clearly being fooled.

Probably the only reasonable explanation of why everyone doesn't agree with me, right?

Of course right.

It's just the Dunning-Kruger effect again, isn't it?  Everyone thinks they're smarter than average.

All this amounts to is another way we insulate ourselves from even considering the possibility that we might be wrong.  Sure, there are wrong people out there, but it can't be us.

Or as a friend of mine put it, "The first rule of Dunning-Kruger Club is that you don't know you belong to Dunning-Kruger Club."

Jang and Kim focused on American test subjects, but it'd be interesting to see how much this carried over across cultures.  As I've observed before, a lot of the American cultural identity revolves around how much better we are than everyone else.  This attitude of American exceptionalism -- the "'Murika, Fuck Yeah!" approach -- not only stops us from considering other possible answers to the problems we face, but prevents any challenge to the path we are taking.

It'd be nice to think that studies like this would pull people up short and make them reconsider, but I'm guessing it won't.  We have far too much invested in our worldviews to examine them closely because of a couple of ivory-tower scientists.

And anyway, even if they are right, and people are getting suckered by claims of fake news when it fits their preconceived notions to accept them, they can't mean me, right?  I'm too smart to get fooled by that.

I'm significantly above average, in fact.

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