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It’s astonishing to me how people can be fooled by fake news. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve been in the news media and publishing industry for nearly three decades that I can spot a fake news story when I see them—perhaps similar to how an expert jeweler can spot fake diamonds and pearls.
The plague of fake news is equal parts scary, concerning and fascinating to me. Fake news spreads like wildfire. It seems to spread even faster than fact based-real news. But why?
In order to understand this, we first need to understand how the brain processes information.
Studies in human psychology suggest that the way our brains interpret new information is shaped by our confirmation biases—that is, we gravitate to ideas that support and promote our own existing beliefs. Whereas how we process the opposing view—we instantly interpret it to be untrustworthy and false. This is what psychologists call motivated reasoning—we reach conclusions that we want to reach—the information that serves our interests and advances our personal agendas better. Our tendency to believe that people who disagree with us are wrong, biased, and irrational is what psychologists term as naive realism.
Our confirmation biases and naive realism does not fully explain why fake news spreads quickly. The primary goals of media companies are to garner attention and generate traffic—to get humans interested in their stories for the sake of likes, shares, and clicks which leads to generating more ad revenue—the corporate bottom line. It’s important to keep in mind that information is the product of media companies—information is the business.
However, the influence of mass media and technological tools such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to seamlessly share information is proving to be problematic. Whether or not something is even true, if we are exposed to information repeatedly, our brains start to process that information as fact—what psychologists call the illusory truth effect. When more people start talking about the same story it starts to feel and seem as though it is the actual truth.
Combining the illusory truth effect with politics is dangerous. Although misinformation and political propaganda has been around for centuries, fake news being weaponized by political parties on social media is serious and cannot be taken lightly. Which is why society as a whole needs to be held accountable—words matter—and words often times do in fact lead to action. Today, it seems as though media companies don’t even disguise their political biases—whether liberal or conservative. For us at the Asian Journal, both sides of any debate and discussion, we try our best to keep things balanced so that you can shape your own opinions. It is true that we certainly strive to focus on positive news much more so than doing click bait—those negative news stories that aims to scare you. One thing is for certain of which you can be sure, you’ll never find us publishing fake news to push our agenda or doing “take down” pieces on someone—that’s not us and never will be.
Roger Oriel is the Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of the Asian Journal Media Group.