People may not remember the ‘news’ they see on Facebook, but that’s not much comfort

Two of my favourite analysts are writing about a new Buzzfeed survey which suggests that most Americans believe the fake news they read on Facebook.

Craig Silverman describes

… news consumers with little ability to evaluate the headlines that often fly toward them without context on social media platforms … And the survey calls into question the notion — which Facebook has reportedly begun testing — that consumers themselves can do the work of distinguishing between real and fake news.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone who’s been following the mushrooming, cancerous growth of fake content, or the undercurrent of crazy bubbling up through, ahem, “alternative channels.” The only observation I’d make here is how it underlines the importance of critical thinking; being able to distinguish facts from bullshit should be a basic civic skill, not a mark of “elitism.”

There’s more, though: Mathew Ingram cites an essay by Marcy Wheeler which raises questions about the extent to which people even remember what they read on Facebook at all. There’s some discussion of whether people recall real news better than fake news, but it’s not all that clear whether or to what extent they act on what they read. As Ingram argues:

Fake news being distributed by Facebook is clearly still a problem, and it’s impossible to say how many people either believe it or share it anyway, or how this influences events such as the U.S. presidential election. But the BuzzFeed survey appears to show that even salacious fake news has very little impact on the majority of people who see it.

Call me a dreadful skeptic if you like, but I’m not sure there’s much comfort in that. It’s not clear how many people remember what they read on Faceborg, but how much evidence do we need that what they see steers them toward stuff they do remember? Especially given the nature of confirmation bias and self-reinforcing bubbles? Not to mention Faceborg’s status as one of the world’s most overwhelmingly dominant distributors of content?

It only takes one guy with a gun and a head full of whacked-out conspiracy theory to walk into a pizza restaurant. Is it really impossible that he might have been steered that way by what he saw on FB?

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