Why do people fall for fake news?

Gordon Pennycook and David Rand write:

What makes people susceptible to fake news and other forms of strategic misinformation? And what, if anything, can be done about it?

These questions have become more urgent in recent years, not least because of revelations about the Russian campaign to influence the 2016 United States presidential election by disseminating propaganda through social media platforms. In general, our political culture seems to be increasingly populated by people who espouse outlandish or demonstrably false claims that often align with their political ideology.

The good news is that psychologists and other social scientists are working hard to understand what prevents people from seeing through propaganda. The bad news is that there is not yet a consensus on the answer. Much of the debate among researchers falls into two opposing camps. One group claims that our ability to reason is hijacked by our partisan convictions: that is, we’re prone to rationalization. The other group — to which the two of us belong — claims that the problem is that we often fail to exercise our critical faculties: that is, we’re mentally lazy.

However, recent research suggests a silver lining to the dispute: Both camps appear to be capturing an aspect of the problem. Once we understand how much of the problem is a result of rationalization and how much a result of laziness, and as we learn more about which factor plays a role in what types of situations, we’ll be better able to design policy solutions to help combat the problem. [Continue reading…]

Journalists faced ‘unprecedented’ hostility this year, report says

CNN reports:

More journalists were killed, abused and subjected to violence in 2018 than in any other year on record, with those in the profession facing an “unprecedented level of hostility,” a new report has found.

Murder, imprisonment, hostage-taking and enforced disappearances of journalists all increased compared to last year, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), who criticized politicians and public figures for encouraging disdain for the news media.

A total of 80 journalists were killed, including non-professional journalists and media workers. 61% were murdered or deliberately targeted for their reporting, while 39% were killed while reporting. The report also found that 348 reporters were being detained and 60 were being held hostage.

The findings further highlight the volatility faced by journalists across the world over the past twelve months, a period which has seen high-profile murders and imprisonments as well as verbal attacks on the news media by key global figures, including US President Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]

U.S. added to list of most dangerous countries for journalists for first time

Reuters reports:

The murder of the Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi — in a year when more than half of all journalists who were killed around the world were targeted deliberately — reflects a hatred of the media in many areas of society, a free-press advocacy group said Tuesday.

At least 63 professional journalists were killed doing their jobs in 2018, a 15 percent increase over last year, said the group, Reporters Without Borders. The number of deaths rises to 80 when all media workers and people classified as citizen journalists are included, it said in its annual report.

The world’s five deadliest countries for journalists include three — India, Mexico and, for the first time, the United States — where journalists were killed in cold blood, even though those countries weren’t at war or in conflict, the group said. [Continue reading…]

Facebook’s fake concern about fake news evident to its factcheckers

The Guardian reports:

Journalists working as factcheckers for Facebook have pushed to end a controversial media partnership with the social network, saying the company has ignored their concerns and failed to use their expertise to combat misinformation.

Current and former Facebook factcheckers told the Guardian that the tech platform’s collaboration with outside reporters has produced minimal results and that they’ve lost trust in Facebook, which has repeatedly refused to release meaningful data about the impacts of their work. Some said Facebook’s hiring of a PR firm that used an antisemitic narrative to discredit critics – fueling the same kind of propaganda factcheckers regularly debunk – should be a deal-breaker.

“They’ve essentially used us for crisis PR,” said Brooke Binkowski, former managing editor of Snopes, a factchecking site that has partnered with Facebook for two years. “They’re not taking anything seriously. They are more interested in making themselves look good and passing the buck … They clearly don’t care.” [Continue reading…]

The Hungarian website that shows how a free press can die

The New York Times reports:

Hungary’s leading news website, Origo, had a juicy scoop: A top aide to the far-right prime minister, Viktor Orban, had used state money to pay for sizable but unexplained expenses during secret foreign trips. The story embarrassed Mr. Orban and was a reminder that his country still had an independent press.

But that was in 2014. Today, Origo is one of the prime minister’s most dutiful media boosters, parroting his attacks on migrants and on George Soros, the Hungarian-American philanthropist demonized by the far right on both sides of the Atlantic.

And if Origo once dug into Mr. Orban’s government, it now pounces on his political opponents.

“Let’s look at the affairs of Laszlo Botka!” a headline blared this month in a salacious take on the only mayor of a major Hungarian city not aligned with Mr. Orban’s party, Fidesz. “Serious scandals, mysteries surround the socialist mayor of Szeged.”

If little known outside Hungary, Origo is now a cautionary tale for an age in which democratic norms and freedom of expression are being challenged globally — and President Trump and other leaders have intensified attacks on the free press.

In many ways, Hungary has foreshadowed the democratic backsliding now evident in different corners of the world. Since winning power in 2010, Mr. Orban has steadily eroded institutional checks and balances, especially the independent media. His government now oversees state-owned news outlets, while his allies control most of the country’s private media sources, creating a virtual echo chamber for Mr. Orban’s far right, anti-immigrant views.

The story of Origo’s transformation from independent news source to government cheerleader offers a blueprint of how Mr. Orban and his allies pulled this off. Rather than a sudden and blatant power grab, the effort was subtle but determined, using a quiet pressure campaign. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s lies are a virus, and news organizations are the host

Derek Thompson writes:

The news media today face an epistemic crisis: how to publish the president’s commentary without amplifying his fabrications and conspiracy theories.

One flashpoint came several weeks ago, when President Donald Trump told Axios reporters that he planned to use an executive order to end birthright citizenship because, as he put it, “we’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen.” On Twitter, Axios CEO and co-founder Jim VandeHei wrote, “Exclusive: Trump to terminate birthright citizenship.”

As many journalists quickly pointed out, this was multilayered malarkey. The president was proposing an unconstitutional means of obliterating the Fourteenth Amendment on the basis of a falsehood; more than two dozen countries in the Western Hemisphere have unrestricted jus soli laws, like the U.S. Axios was treating as fact a haphazard plan, in search of an impossible outcome, justified by a false assertion.

Axios took about as much grief as it deserved. But as others have shown, it’s far from the only media outlet whose headlines and tweets are guilty of passing along Trump’s falsehoods as straightforward and noteworthy quotes. [Continue reading…]

Marie Colvin: Lindsey Hilsum’s revealing biography of courageous war reporter is compelling stuff

File 20181112 83573 7b3m7x.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Marie Colvin, who died after being targeted in a shell attack in Homs, Syria, in 2012.
Wikipedia

By Idrees Ahmad, University of Stirling

For Marie Colvin, it was Lebanon’s War of the Camps that brought home the power of journalism. In April 1987 Burj al Barajneh, a Palestinian refugee camp, was besieged by Amal, a Shia militia backed by the Syrian regime.

Colvin and her photographer Tom Stoddart paid an Amal commander to briefly hold fire while they ran into the camp across no-man’s land. The assault on the camp was relentless and women were forced to run a gauntlet of sniper fire to get food and water for their families.

One young woman, Haji Achmed Ali, was shot as she tried to re-enter the camp with supplies. As she lay there wounded, no man dared pull her to safety. But then, Colvin reported:

Two [women] raced from cover, plucked Achmed Ali from the dust and hauled her to safety. It is the women who are dying and it was women who tired of men’s inaction.

Despite the best efforts of volunteer medics, Achmed Ali would not survive. At the hospital another woman appealed to Colvin to tell the world the young woman’s story.

[Read more…]

Words and walkouts aren’t enough. CNN should sue Trump over revoking Acosta’s press pass

Margaret Sullivan writes:

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta is a smart, tough reporter. He can also be a grandstander who seems to thrive on conflict with President Trump and doesn’t always know when to stop his aggressive questioning.

But whether you like Acosta’s style, it’s clear the White House crossed a bright line Wednesday when it took away Acosta’s “hard pass,” which allows him the access he needs to cover the White House.

That action amounts to punishing a member of the press for doing his job of informing the public — and then creating a false pretext to justify that relatiation.

Trump’s dislike of Acosta is well known, and he took it to a new level at a wild news conference Wednesday, calling him “a rude, terrible person” whom CNN should be ashamed of employing.

To make matters worse, Sarah Sanders lied — and circulated a misleadingly edited video to back herself up — when she claimed later that Acosta was being punished for “placing his hands on a young woman.”

A White House staff member was directed to take a mic out of Acosta’s hands; he certainly didn’t readily give it up but he was polite, and he came into physical contact with her only for a brief moment as he moved his arm to shield the mic.

I’ve heard various suggestions about how CNN or the press corps should respond to this retaliation: There should be a boycott, a walkout, a news blackout. And I’ve read the strongly worded rebukes from the White House Correspondents’ Association, from CNN and others.

But mere words aren’t enough. And a boycott or blackout not only runs counter to the core idea that the reporters are there to inform the public, but it also would cede the briefings to the worst Trump sycophants.

No, something more is called for: CNN should sue the Trump White House on First Amendment grounds. And press-rights groups, along with other media organizations, should join in to create a united and powerful front. (Fox News, which benefited from the press corps’ united front on its behalf when the Obama White House tried to exclude it from some briefings in 2009, should pay that solidarity forward by getting on board.) [Continue reading…]

Trump’s attacks on the press are illegal. We’re suing

Suzanne Nossel writes:

President Donald J. Trump’s frequent threats and hostile acts directed toward journalists and the media are not only offensive and unbecoming of a democratic leader; they are also illegal. In the Trump era, nasty rhetoric, insults and even threats of violence have become an occupational hazard for political reporters and commentators. To be sure, a good portion of President Trump’s verbal attacks on journalists and news organizations might be considered fair game in this bare-knuckled political moment. The president has free-speech rights just like the rest of us, and deeming the news media “the enemy of the American people” and dismissing accurate reports as “fake news” are permissible under the First Amendment.

But the First Amendment does not protect all speech. Although the president can launch verbal tirades against the press, he cannot use the powers of his office to suppress or punish speech he doesn’t like. When President Trump proposes government retribution against news outlets and reporters, his statements cross the line. Worse still, in several cases it appears that the bureaucracy he controls has acted on his demands, making other threats he issues to use his governmental powers more credible. Using the force of the presidency to punish or suppress legally protected speech strikes at the heart of the First Amendment, contravening the Constitution. Presidents are free to mock, needle, evade and even demean the press, but not to use the power of government to stifle it.

That is why this week PEN America, an organization of writers that defends free expression, together with the nonprofit organization Protect Democracy and the Yale Law School Media Freedom and Information Clinic, is filing suit in federal court seeking an order directing the president not to use the force of his office to exact reprisals against the press. [Continue reading…]

Woodward missed everything that matters about the Trump presidency

David Frum writes:

The alleged killing of a Washington Post columnist on the orders of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has triggered many rethinks—and not least a rethinking of the lavishly flattering journalism that hailed the crown prince’s rise to supreme power.

Among the biggest media boosters of the Saudi crown prince was Bob Woodward in his new book, Fear. Woodward observed that a National Security Council staffer, Derek Harvey, believed that “MBS was the future. MBS saw that transformative change in Saudi Arabia was the only path to survival for the Kingdom.” This is but one of the encomia to MbS in Woodward’s pages—all of them traceable much less to Woodward’s feelings about MbS than to Woodward’s apparent indebtedness to Harvey.

Woodward doesn’t publicly identify his sources, but much of his account of the inner workings of the National Security Council in the first six months of the Trump administration is relayed from Harvey’s perspective. (Harvey, a Michael Flynn appointee, would be fired by H. R. McMaster in July 2017. Harvey now works on the staff of Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.) No person in Woodward’s book is more lavishly praised than Harvey:

One of the premier fact-driven intelligence analysts in the U.S. government … a soft-spoken, driven legend … In some circles he was referred to as “The Grenade” because of his ability and willingness to explode conventional wisdom.

More valuable than such compliments is Woodward’s endorsement of Harvey’s big project: his determination, backed by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to forge a region-transforming partnership against Iran in alliance with the Saudi crown prince. [Continue reading…]