April 14, 2024
Not fake news – satire is helping spread misinformation on social media


The Onion, The Babylon Bee, and the aptly named SatireWire have become notorious for their satirical news stories. Some people may mistake their respective posts on social media for legitimate news, but given the influx of satirical websites – with names like National Report and World News Daily Report – it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell fact from fiction.

A 2020 study conducted by George Pearson, a senior lecturer and research associate in communication at The Ohio State University, and published in the journal New Media & Society, found that users on social media pay less attention to the source of the content they consume. Are. As a result, it has become very common to mistake satire or fiction for real news.

The problem has only gotten worse, especially on X – the social media platform formerly known as Twitter – as it has removed the verification process for news organizations and journalists in favor of a subscription-based system.

“Before social media, the marketplace of ideas often resembled a department store or a mall. Specific magazines or media outlets focused on specific types of stories, and their differences in branding were obvious. For example, if you picked up a Time magazine or a national lampoon At the checkout line, you knew what to expect between each page,” explained Professor Laura Graham, a faculty instructor of business communications at North Carolina Central University.

Graham said that although there is some segmentation in social media, today’s market looks more like a swap meet — with stories or posts. the new York Times And the Babylon bees are next to each other

“There is no difference in production values ​​or format to tell the difference,” he warned. “Satire and news both have their place, and it is not the desire or responsibility of the platform to ensure that readers know the difference. Today’s media market requires its audiences to be more careful consumers.”

The need to believe…even the ridiculous

This is not just an issue of the changing “media market,” but also a sign of the times and our national divide. There is a lot of distrust in many traditional media, so when a satirical post contradicts the mainstream, some people will automatically accept it as fact.

“Many times, people’s desire to believe something is true discourages them from checking out information sources. Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias – how our brains are wired – that makes us seek out those sources and information. “What leads us to believe more easily is what confirms what we already believe,” Graham continued.

Just last week the Duffel Blog—a military-themed satire site—reported that the password for US Cyber ​​Command had gone wrong. Of course, this was not real, yet some people believed it to be true because of their opinion of the American military.

“If someone wants to believe that the government is not careful about its cybersecurity or that the government is less competent, a story about a wrong password will be more credible to that person,” Graham said. “They will be less likely to second-guess the source or information.”

More than just a lack of disclaimers

Although some headlines on satire sites are offensive – others are increasingly credible. It could be argued that this is intentional as a way to increase traffic, as credible headlines can be a good form of clickbait.

But the lack of disclaimers makes it difficult to tell fact from satirical fiction.

“In 1938, ‘The War of the Worlds’ radio broadcast created widespread fear that alien creatures had come to Earth, as listeners tuned in after the disclaimer that the following information was a fictional program for Halloween ,” said Dr. Dustin York, associate professor of communications at Maryville University.

“Social media has fueled this unintentional misinformation with constant headline scrolling but little research,” York asserted. “Now add that social media algorithms prioritize engaging content, which can also mean divisive content, and you have a potential firestorm that forces users to find facts amid purposeful misinformation and parody information.”

truth should matter

Social media users should not become victims of this by believing everything posted on social media. In fact, more efforts should be made to fact check that “shocking” news revelation before sharing it as fact.

Graham suggested, “It is our responsibility as information consumers to ensure that whatever sources and information we see – on any platform – are reliable, relevant and accurate.” “If we as viewers don’t do even the most basic thing to ensure that what we are watching and broadcasting is news rather than satire, we will simply be part of manufactured outrage and content-less noise Today’s marketplace of ideas is disorganized.”

And perhaps a case could also be made that while satire has its place, we could actually use more news sources to do factual reporting and offer a little less commentary. Until that happens, it is likely that divisions will persist and many people will believe stories that support their agenda, even if they seem completely fabricated.

“Even if unintentionally,” York said, “parody news can promote Winston Churchill’s dictum, ‘A lie goes halfway around the world before the truth can find its footing.’”

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