Why the Demand for Fake News is a Far More Serious Problem than the Supply

  

Category:  Op/Ed

Via:  steve-ott  •  2 months ago  •  22 comments

By:   Ilya Somin

Why the Demand for Fake News is a Far More Serious Problem than the Supply

People who know very little about political issues are, by virtue of that ignorance, more susceptible to misinformation. Politicians and interest groups are well aware of this vulnerability, and routinely exploit it.


S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



Since the 2016 election, there has been widespread concern about "fake news" and many   proposals   to combat it by   constraining the supply , particularly that from foreign sources, such as the hostile authoritarian regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Fake news is a genuine problem and Putin   really is a ruthless enemy of western liberalism and democracy   that western nations should do more to counter. But Canadian columnist Andrew Coyne has   a valuable critique   of claims that we can overcome the problem by regulating the supply of fake news:


I have an urgent warning for the people of Canada. Even now, certain agents are plotting to influence the result of the next election campaign by means of stealth and deception.

Posing as ordinary Canadians, they plan to use social media to spread falsehoods designed to inflame public opinion, using the latest micro-targeting technologies to tailor their messages to the reader's particular fears and prejudices.

These agents are better known as the political parties….

No one disputes that Russia, China and others have interfered or attempted to interfere in recent elections around the world, notably in the election that gave us Trump (okay, Trump still disputes it)… But the impact of "fake news"…. is more debatable….

I don't want to say that "fake news" doesn't matter. But to the extent that it matters, it would appear the problem is less the supply than the demand: the willingness, indeed the desire of large numbers of people to believe transparent falsehoods. But then, without it what becomes of politics?

What is true of Canada is even more true for the United States: The fake news generated by Russian and other foreign plants is trivial compared to that produced by our own political parties and their homegrown partisan and activist allies. John Sides, Michael Tesler, Lynn Vavreck's new book   Identity Crisis , the most thorough social science analysis of the 2016 election, concludes that the impact of Russian-generated fake news was virtually undetectable in the data, and certainly trivial compared to that of homegrown misinformation, xenophobic attitudes and partisan polarization, which helped Trump eke out a narrow victory.

And, as Coyne points out, our own political parties routinely spread politically potent misinformation on a far larger and more effective scale than foreign-generated bots do. That was certainly true of Donald Trump's campaign, which   relied extensively on bogus claims about immigration and trade . But while Trump is particularly brazen in his lies and deceptions, conventional politicians also routinely use such tactics, even if more subtly and less indiscriminately. It's hard to point to any one lie told by Trump that was as successful as   Barack Obama's "if you like your health care plan, you can keep it,"   a deserving winner of Politifact's   2013 "Lie of the Year" award . I would be happy to see Trump removed from office. But we should not imagine that the problem of political disinformation is limited to him and his supporters, or that it is mainly caused by Russian plants infiltrating our otherwise largely pure and wholesome political environment.

Indeed, Coyne's best insight is that the true root of the problem is not the supply of fake news, but the demand for it. In a relatively free society, there will always be people willing to spread lies and disinformation. The real danger is that so many people are willing to consume such material - and eagerly believe it when they do. If not for such avid consumers, political misinformation would cause little, if any, harm.

Part of the reason why many people are susceptible to deceptions and "fake news" is widespread public ignorance. Most voters   know very little about government and public policy , in large part because it is actually rational for them to devote no more than a small fraction of their time to following political issues . Since an individual vote has only an infinitesimally small chance of influencing electoral outcomes, it makes little sense for most citizens to spend substantial time and effort learning about politics in order to become better voters. Unfortunately, such individually rational voter behavior can cause harmful collective outcomes. People who know very little about political issues are, by virtue of that ignorance, more susceptible to misinformation. Politicians and interest groups are well aware of this vulnerability, and routinely exploit it.

But the problem here goes beyond simple ignorance. As Coyne suggests, many people are actively eager to believe dubious claims, so long as doing so confirms their preexisting views. Particularly in our current environment of   severe political polarization , partisans often act not as truth-seekers, but   as "political fans"   eager to endorse anything that supports their position or casts the opposing party and its supporters in a bad light. These biases affect not only ordinary voters, but also   otherwise highly knowledgeable ones , and even   policymakers and politicians . This helps explain why many people eagerly consume crude misinformation, without giving careful thought to the validity of the claims made.

There is no easy solution to these problems. Individual voters   can do a lot to better inform themselves and curb their biases . But I am skeptical that many will do so anytime soon. In my view, the better approach is   systematic reform to limit and decentralize the power of government , so as to reduce the potential harm caused by voter ignorance and bias. There are a variety of other possible solutions, as well. Regardless, the beginning of wisdom on the issue of fake news is to recognize - as Andrew Coyne does - that the root of the problem is demand, not supply. And as long as the demand remains high, there will be plenty of willing suppliers.


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Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
1  seeder  Steve Ott    2 months ago

We all have our set of beliefs, however fluid or rigid they may be. I certainly have mine. But I try to be aware of that when reading, stuff. All the stuff. But I must confess, I have upon occasion decided to believe a certain thing because it fit in with what I wanted to believe. Only later to be relieved of the burden of carrying around the fake stuff. For some reason, we like to think of this as a recent phenomena and want to regulate speech platforms, social media. It ain't the media, it's the social.

Both on the left and the right, people don't want to discuss issues. For them it is black and white and no truth shall be believed that says otherwise.

 
 
 
Split Personality
Professor Principal
1.1  Split Personality  replied to  Steve Ott @1    2 months ago
Both on the left and the right, people don't want to discuss issues. For them it is black and white and no truth shall be believed that says otherwise.

Granted. But it should still be able to be done in a civil manner, without the insults and

condescending attitudes.

THAT is the disappointing part.

Meanwhile there are multiple pictures of a listing, sinking Russian flagship

with the whole aft section damaged by fire, and fires visible in the clearly punctured port

side where at least 4 rocket launchers no longer exist,

and the Russian government says it was a careless accident and stormy seas.

And some people believe that....

SMH

 
 
 
Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
1.1.1  seeder  Steve Ott  replied to  Split Personality @1.1    2 months ago
But it should still be able to be done in a civil manner, without the insults and condescending attitudes.

It should, yes, and it is, however; people are lazy and quite simply find it too tiring to do so. It takes a certain mental fortitude to hold the line.

I know, I have a temper that I fight to keep under control. Mostly I succeed, sometimes I don't. At least when I don't, I just leave and come back until I am clear headed.

There are also those times when one must simply walk away because no discussion is going to go anywhere.

There are no easy answers or ways. One must simply be willing to slog on through sometimes.

 
 
 
Veronica
Masters Expert
1.2  Veronica  replied to  Steve Ott @1    2 months ago
Both on the left and the right, people don't want to discuss issues.

You are correct in this.  I miss the time when news was facts delivered without the opinion of the person delivering the facts.  I miss discussions when both sides present their views and actually talk about the why's they see things that way without the insinuation that they are stupid.  I know when I was younger and we had discussions I actually learned something from people I disagreed with, now it is a slap fight & no one learns anything.

This is just my opinion and in no way presented as facts.  

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
2  Ender    2 months ago
But the problem here goes beyond simple ignorance. As Coyne suggests, many people are actively eager to believe dubious claims, so long as doing so confirms their preexisting views.

Confirmation bias. People look for things that enforce what they believe.

 
 
 
Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
2.1  seeder  Steve Ott  replied to  Ender @2    2 months ago
People look for things that enforce what they believe.

Indeed they do. The trick is to be willing to explore the other for any value. The majority of people are too lazy to do that.

 
 
 
Trout Giggles
Professor Principal
2.2  Trout Giggles  replied to  Ender @2    2 months ago

Yes, even the liberal left that has their "news reporting" which in my opinion is dubious most of the times. Websites like Alternet and Occupy Democrats take a grain of truth and then stretch it to the point it represents Gumby. I stick with my local news and sometimes ABC Overnight.

 
 
 
Ender
Professor Principal
2.2.1  Ender  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.2    2 months ago

I will watch local and sometimes ABC nightly news.

I will admit I like and look at Vice.

 
 
 
Dismayed Patriot
Professor Participates
2.2.2  Dismayed Patriot  replied to  Trout Giggles @2.2    2 months ago
I stick with my local news and sometimes ABC Overnight.

I find the BBC news and PBS Newshour to be the most informative and unbiased. Also the AP and Reuters can be trusted to report news and rarely peddles in partisan opinion.

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
3  Sparty On    2 months ago

Lol .... law professors as independents?

Hilarious!

 
 
 
Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
3.1  seeder  Steve Ott  replied to  Sparty On @3    2 months ago

And why would that be?

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
3.1.1  Sparty On  replied to  Steve Ott @3.1    2 months ago

Well, that’s pretty obvious to most folks but perhaps you have reasons for not noticing such things.

 
 
 
Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
3.1.2  seeder  Steve Ott  replied to  Sparty On @3.1.1    2 months ago

Since you are the only one mentioning such a thing, it isn't in the article nor has anyone mentioned anything about them, it is difficult to surmise your intended usage of the phrase.

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
3.1.3  Sparty On  replied to  Steve Ott @3.1.2    2 months ago

It’s not difficult to grasp for anyone with a modicum of intellectual curiosity.

The source of the article, Reason, self identifies as mostly law professors and always independent.    An eight year old with a cursory google search could find what most of us already know.    That a large majority of law professors are in fact, very liberal.

Any supposition that they would be “always independent” is completely ridiculous.

 
 
 
Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
3.1.4  seeder  Steve Ott  replied to  Sparty On @3.1.3    2 months ago

LOL. The blog is the Volokh Conspiracy, hosted by Reason and previously hosted by Washington Post and before that I do not know. If you were to read the blog enough, and I presume you don't, you would realize that not everyone on there is as liberal as you might presume.

Perhaps you would prefer .

Although, with your preconceptions, I doubt it.

Live long, and prosper.

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
3.1.5  Sparty On  replied to  Steve Ott @3.1.4    2 months ago

Lol .... it’s true, Reason hosted it so they do own it.    And I didn’t say everyone there was liberal.

You should stop trying to put words in people’s mouths.   Its really bad form .... that said, you have a wonderful day now ya hear?

 
 
 
JohnRussell
Professor Principal
3.1.6  JohnRussell  replied to  Sparty On @3.1.3    2 months ago

Although I already knew this, it took me about 5 seconds to find a link

  • About   Reason   Founded in 1968,  Reason  is the nation's leading  libertarian  magazine. We produce hard-hitting independent journalism on civil liberties, politics, technology, culture, policy, and...

    • Estimated Reading Time:   1 min

    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    It is not by any stretch of the imagination a liberal magazine. 

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
3.1.7  Sparty On  replied to  JohnRussell @3.1.6    2 months ago

Any supposition that Reason Magazine would use a source like The Volokh Conspiracy, and not be liberal, is ridiculous.

Mostly Law Professors means most liberal.    Period.

Keep telling the lie though.    I’m sure the usual worker drones here will collect that pollen and spread it all around.

 
 
 
Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
3.1.8  seeder  Steve Ott  replied to  Sparty On @3.1.5    2 months ago
own it

No, they don't. You really need to learn how these things work rather than presuming your suppositions are truth.

Have a prosperous day.

 
 
 
Steve Ott
Professor Quiet
3.1.9  seeder  Steve Ott  replied to  Sparty On @3.1.7    2 months ago
most liberal

Gotta make you wonder how you get lawyers like John Eastman then. Or most prosecutors, or so many other conservative attorneys.

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
3.1.10  Sparty On  replied to  Steve Ott @3.1.8    2 months ago
No, they don't.

yes they do.

You really need to learn how these things work rather than presuming your suppositions are truth.

Nah, I deal in reality friend.

Have a prosperous day.

I did and you as well.    May the fleas of a thousand camels not infest your nether regions. 

 
 
 
Sparty On
Professor Principal
3.1.11  Sparty On  replied to  Steve Ott @3.1.9    2 months ago

Wonder away but you’ve got blinders on if you don’t see that a majority of law professors are far from independent and most certainly are very liberal.

 
 

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