5 Ways to Fight Fake News

Filter bubbles and fake news exist because all of us tend to ignore facts and stick to our own social enclaves online. To heal the division in America, we must fix one of our most important methods of gathering and sharing information: the internet.

Viral fake news and filter bubbles have wreaked havoc, precipitating real-world events like #Brexit, #Pizzagate, and #AlternativeFacts.

Economists with the World Economic Forum warned about this trend in their 2013 report on risks to the global economy. Viral rumors, they cautioned, could have devastating impacts as they spread across social media.

Now, America is so divided that liberals and conservatives won’t agree on basic facts. One of the only things they will agree on is how much they disdain hearing each other’s point of view. These polarized views compel social media users—both liberal and conservative—to help spread fake news by ignoring facts.

To reunite the country, Americans must reestablish a culture of honesty. And in a world where half of Americans get news from social media, that culture will begin online—one post and comment at a time.

Social Responsibility on Social Media

Social media may be one of society’s greatest tools, but it’s also one of our great vulnerabilities. Dan Zigmond, director of analytics for the Facebook news feed, puts it this way: “By breaking down barriers and making communication easier, we also open up the possibility of making miscommunication easier. It means it’s even more important to exercise mindfulness in the way we relate to each other.”

Zigmond helped Facebook develop a suite of new tools that allow users to report fake news on the platform. The initiative, launched in 2016, means Facebook sends stories reported by users to third-party fact-checking websites such as Snopes, ABC News, and The Associated Press. If those organizations identify the article as fake, it will be flagged as “disputed” and will be linked to an article explaining why, according to Facebook.

Facebook users can still share articles flagged as fake—there’s no guarantee against another Pizzagate—but they’ll receive a notification before sharing the article telling them that “independent fact-checkers have disputed its accuracy.”

Ultimately, when it comes to the impact of fake news and the kind of content that reigns on our social feeds, we’re the ones with our hands on the lever. Social media may help spread disinformation—users may dig in their heels when challenged on a false claim, ignore facts, and try to reaffirm their own beliefs—but it’s also easy to use social media to fight disinformation. Here are five ways you can bring more awareness into your social media experience, harness online tools to help defeat trolls while fact-checking sources, and foster better conversations and relationships online:

5 Ways to Fight Fake News

1) Find Your Blindspots

You likely feel that you’re not susceptible to misinformation, which makes sense—misinformation exists because those who believe it don’t think it’s misinformation. Try a few of these tasks to check your biases and blindspots.

Disagree with yourself

We often ignore information that makes us uncomfortable. This is called “information avoidance.” As decision scientist Russell Golman explains in a paper, we tend to undervalue the validity of information in disagreement with our own worldview, while overvaluing information that affirms our worldview. As a result, when conservatives and liberals are given the exact same set of objective facts about a polarizing issue (like climate change) each side may become more entrenched in their beliefs. Intelligent, creative, and scientifically-literate people are actually worse at accepting challenging information because they’re more able to rationalize previously held beliefs.

We’re quite good at ignoring, forgetting, or never learning inconvenient information. This is where social media echo chambers, political polarization, science denial, and media bias come from.

Golman explains that we’re quite good at ignoring, forgetting, or never learning inconvenient information. This is where social media echo chambers, political polarization, science denial, and media bias come from. 83% of social media users say that when they see something they disagree with on social media, they ignore it. 39% of users have blocked or hidden friends or posts because they’re political—and liberals block friends more often.

“I would encourage people not to unfriend or unfollow people because they disagree with them,” suggests Zigmond. “We all have beliefs that feel like part of our identity. It’s comforting to be told that those beliefs are right, and it’s discomforting to have those beliefs challenged. It’s very natural. We just need to be aware of that phenomenon and be conscious of how we react. I would encourage people to try to stay connected and keep a dialogue going. Take the next step and read and inform yourself about what’s being shared.”

Uncover your bubble

If you use Chrome, try installing PolitEcho. It will analyze your newsfeed to create a chart of your friends, organized by political affiliation and how often they appear in your news feed. The results are sobering, often revealing how a small cluster of politically-homogeneous acquaintances make up most of what you see on Facebook.

Vivian Mo, who helped develop PolitEcho, notes that: “Ironically, we think of ourselves as open-minded and diverse, only to find that we’ve surrounded ourselves with people who have the same political leanings.”

According to researchers at Facebook, the composition of our friend network is the single-most important factor in determining what we see in our newsfeeds. About 20% of liberals’ and conservatives’ friends on social media are from the opposite end of the political spectrum though liberals tend to have fewer friends with contrasting viewpoints than conservatives