Why we love liking junk news that reaffirms our beliefs

Why we love liking junk news that reaffirms our beliefs


WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Now to our special series
on junk news. Miles O’Brien has been reporting extensively
on how it’s spread, how social media platforms have been utilized and manipulated, and how
some folks have used it for business and other political motives. Tonight, he looks at many of us, the users
who see all of this, and how it’s feeding into our own beliefs about politics, institutions
and government. It’s part of weekly series on the Leading
Edge of technology. BETTY MANLOVE, Facebook User: I go on Facebook
because members of my family post pictures, and I can keep track of my family that way. MILES O’BRIEN: Betty Manlove used to be a
smoker. Not anymore. But she still battles an addiction. BETTY MANLOVE: My other addiction is Facebook. I have lost hours on Facebook that I should
have been doing other things. MILES O’BRIEN: And while pictures of her grandchildren
and great-grandchildren lured her to the social networking platform in the first place, it
is politics that fuels addiction. BETTY MANLOVE: I was raised Democrat . However,
I have decided that I will not vote Democrat again. MILES O’BRIEN: We found this dyed-in-the-wool
Christian conservative in a surprising way. Her grandson is Cameron Hickey, the producer
of this series. As part of our investigation into the world
of junk news, he wrote some software that searched the social network for misinformation. His grandmother had liked more of these sites
than any of his friends. Among pages she has followed, those produced
by Cyrus Massoumi, the prolific purveyor of hyperpartisan content we featured in our last
installment. CAMERON HICKEY: She said she doesn’t talk
to any of her kids, not my mom, not her other kids, about politics, because it seems like
a challenge. But she loves liking political stuff on Facebook. BETTY MANLOVE: I think social media has caused
me to be more concerned with politics. MILES O’BRIEN: Facebook is exquisitely designed
to feed Betty Manlove’s addiction. The ever-learning algorithm knows her well
and consistently provides content designed to keep her at the screen and move her emotions,
one way or another. BETTY MANLOVE: It seems like they want to
stir up questions in your mind. And those kinds of things are meant to try
influence you to change your mind. And they don’t. They make me a little bit angry. MILES O’BRIEN: That’s one thing Betty Manlove
shares in common with another one of Cameron’s Facebook friends. Gabe Doran is an actor and soccer dad from
Brooklyn. GABE DORAN, Facebook User: Look alive, boys. MILES O’BRIEN: He also admits he might be
addicted to Facebook. GABE DORAN: I got really involved on Facebook,
which is kind of a waste of time, to be honest with you. But it’s how I choose to waste some of my
time. So, it’s like, damn. I just wasted like an hour on Facebook really
accomplishing nothing. That group is called I Am a Liberal Until
My Dying Day. CAMERON HICKEY: You are a member of that group? GABE DORAN: I don’t know. I guess so. If you like it, you are a member, right? MILES O’BRIEN: Gabe Doran is as blue as Betty
Manlove is red. GABE DORAN: I’m pretty liberal. For some, that’s a bad word. I don’t — I still don’t really understand
that, but I’m pretty proud of it. MILES O’BRIEN: He has also liked several hyperpartisan
pages, including Cyrus Massoumi’s liberal Truth Examiner. Gabe Doran got really hooked during the 2016
presidential election. GABE DORAN: I was in shock. I didn’t understand, knowing everything that
we knew then, and we know so much more now. And there’s still a lot of support. It’s just — it’s mind-boggling to me. MILES O’BRIEN: He too sees a lot that makes
him angry. GABE DORAN: I have some right-wing friends
who jump on me whenever I post these things, and it starts a long back and forth. They’re incredibly misinformed. And there’s nothing I can do about that with
my facts and with my logic and with my common sense. MILES O’BRIEN: But common sense, the facts
are not what keeps people coming back to Facebook again and again. CAMERON HICKEY: Do you ever tried to verify
the things that you see? BETTY MANLOVE: Sometimes, if it bothers me. Usually, I just think it’s political and go
right on. MILES O’BRIEN: Raw emotion, untethered from
the facts, is what causes the virtual food-fight. Jonathan Albright watches all of this as research
director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. JONATHAN ALBRIGHT, Director, Tow Center for
Digital Journalism, Columbia University: I saw friends and people that I knew posting
things that were, insensitive and things that maybe I wouldn’t normally see them post, kind
of outrage type political — almost like outrage porn, is what I call it. MILES O’BRIEN: In this world, fringe players
have equal footing, and because they are apt to be more strident, they get a lot of engagement,
and end up at the top of our news feeds, burying the middle ground. JONATHAN ALBRIGHT: I think maybe some of the
polarization and the kind of effects of what we’re seeing are really just the exposure
of groups that traditionally, without such densely interconnected social media, would
never come in contact with one another. MILES O’BRIEN: And everyone has made decisions
about what to trust based on the conventional wisdom of a set of friends, our tribe. And we tend to agree with them. Neither Betty nor Gabe say their opinions
have been swayed on Facebook, just hardened. CAMERON HICKEY: Do you think that you’re going
to change any of your beliefs based on the news you read? BETTY MANLOVE: Not unless there’s tremendous
proof that I should change what I believe. And, these days, the actual truth is kind
of hard to come by. GABE DORAN: I know that no one is going to
change my mind about the way I feel. I know I’m not going to change anybody else’s
mind. MILES O’BRIEN: The term of art is a filter
bubble. Web publisher Eli Pariser coined the phrase. ELI PARISER, Good Media Group: This kind of
image of a filter bubble as this kind of personal universe of information that follows us around
wherever we go. And it filters out things that we might not
want to engage with, and shapes our own sort of view of the world. That’s a really big shift from a set of editors
and producers carefully thinking about what should go on the front page and what shouldn’t. MILES O’BRIEN: It is a welcome shift for Betty
Manlove, who has very little trust of traditional media sources. BETTY MANLOVE: I believe what I want to believe. I’m too much of an independent thinker to
allow emotions to take over. And news is news and opinion is opinion, and
so I just go for the true news. MILES O’BRIEN: But finding what is true in
her news feed is not so easy. She has been convinced Barack Obama was born
in Kenya… DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
Let him produce the birth certificate, which I hear doesn’t exist. MILES O’BRIEN: … and Parkland school shooting
survivor David Hogg is a fraud. So, where do these ideas come from? From the filter bubble created on Facebook
by liking a post or clicking on a targeted ad that unwittingly makes users followers
of a hyperpartisan page. In the mix, some misinformation from Russia. Her grandson helped her find that out by going
to a site on Facebook for users to see if they have liked any pages linked to Russia’s
Internet Research Agency. CAMERON HICKEY: So, it shows that, on 6/20/2016,
you liked this page, stopa.i, which is a Russian Facebook page. Then, on January 8, 2017, you liked Army of
Jesus, which is another Russian page. BETTY MANLOVE: Really? CAMERON HICKEY: Yes. Let’s keep going down. And then, on 6/20/2016, you liked one called
Secured Borders. So, these three pages that you liked were
pages created by Russian intelligence agents to spread disinformation. BETTY MANLOVE: Well, that’s all new information
for me. CAMERON HICKEY: Does it ever worry you that
they might manipulating you? BETTY MANLOVE: I’m sure that they are trying
to. I try not to be manipulated by that, but it’s
possible that I am. MILES O’BRIEN: Gabe Doran says he is more
likely to seek humor and entertainment stories on Facebook. He says he goes out of his way to check stories
for accuracy before sharing. He doesn’t feel manipulated by falsehoods,
but rather Facebook itself and a business model that rewards polarization and makes
users the product. GABE DORAN: It does change your perspective. It’s — you do feel a little bit duped. But then I guess we’re all in some way a little
bit addicted, so we keep going back, in the hopes that it will get figured out, that they
will figure out the glitches and the stuff that’s not working. MILES O’BRIEN: In our next installment, we
will take you back inside Facebook and show you how they’re trying to fix what’s not working. I’m Miles O’Brien for the “PBS NewsHour,”
in Menlo Park, California.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *