Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Filter bubbles not the root cause of Facebook’s fake news problem

Fake news was ample and abundant on Facebook during the recent U.S. presidential election campaign, but it’s more complicated than blaming it on “filter bubbles,” says R. Kelly Garrett.From Scientific American via the Conversation (“Facebook’s Problem Is More Complicated Than Fake News”):

The popular claim that “filter bubbles” are why fake news thrives on Facebook is almost certainly wrong. If the network is encouraging people to believe untruths—and that’s a big if—the problem more likely lies in how the platform interacts with basic human social tendencies. That’s far more difficult to change.

Facebook’s role in the dissemination of political news is undeniable. In May 2016, 44 percent of Americans said they got news from the social media site. And the prevalence of misinformation disseminated through Facebook is undeniable.

It’s plausible, then, that the amount of fake news on a platform where so many people get their news can help explain why so many Americans are misinformed about politics.

But it’s hard to say how likely this is. …

Facebook wants its users to be engaged, not overwhelmed, so it employs proprietary software that filters users’ news feeds and chooses the content that will appear. The risk lies in how this tailoring is done.

There’s ample evidence that people are drawn to news that affirms their political viewpoint. Facebook’s software learns from users’ past actions; it tries to guess which stories they are likely to click or share in the future. Taken to its extreme, this produces a filter bubble, in which users are exposed only to content that reaffirms their biases. The risk, then, is that filter bubbles promote misperceptions by hiding the truth.

The appeal of this explanation is obvious. It’s easy to understand, so maybe it’ll be easy to fix. Get rid of personalized news feeds, and filter bubbles are no more.

The problem with the filter bubble metaphor is that it assumes people are perfectly insulated from other perspectives. In fact, numerousstudieshaveshown that individuals’ media diets almost always include information and sources that challenge their political attitudes. And a study of Facebook user data found that encounters with cross-cutting information is widespread. In other words, holding false beliefs is unlikely to be explained by people’s lack of contact with more accurate news.

Instead, people’s preexisting political identities profoundly shape their beliefs. So even when faced with the same information, whether it’s a news article or a fact check, people with different political orientations often extract dramatically different meaning. …

If you voted for Trump, have you ever encountered evidence disputing Trump’s assertion that voter fraud is commonplace in the U.S.? Fact checkers and news organizations have covered this issue extensively, offering robust evidence that the claim is untrue. However a Trump supporter might be unmoved: In a September 2016 poll, 90 percent of Trump supporters said they didn’t trust fact checkers.

Read the whole thing.

Thu, November 17 2016 » Main Page, Media