a reward system that favors fake news

Contrary to popular belief, the sharing of false information is not due to a lack of perspective on information or political bias, but rather a routine promoted by social networks.

The fake news From the 2016 American elections, which ended with the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House, it literally entered our daily vocabulary. We have finally given a name to something that has been around since the birth of traditional media and their rapid democratization after World War II.

These are fake news, or this sometimes false, sometimes incomplete, sometimes partisan information has multiplied and spread like a wave among the population, mainly thanks to social networks, especially in times of uncertainty such as the Covid-19 crisis or the war in Ukraine. With their emotional, engaging, cathartic nature, fake news it spreads more quickly and reaches many circles, especially when this spread is organized by “troll factories”, for example, an organization that uses social networks to spread false information and influence the population during elections.

To such an extent that the mainstream media have equipped themselves with anti-defense tools.fake news to combat the loss of trust in mass media and thus re-legitimize their position as credible media. The world“Check the News” Let it goor “True or False” french news, journalists scour the internet to verify, confirm or deny the most dangerous publications.

In the common imagination, the publication of Fake News is often attributed to the ignorance of the citizens on the subject or the decision of the party. cherry pickingor pecking in French, the rhetoric of broadcasting only what goes in the direction of opinion.

A recent study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) propose a new hypothesis: could the sharing of false information be related to a well-established reward system in social networks?

To believe fake news

Research on fake news often looks at the psychology of individuals. What type of population shares false information? Why do they share them? Are they alerted to the quality of the information being shared or otherwise?

Some research on the subject suggests on the one hand that some people, especially older people, are more inclined to spread publications, whether they are true or not, due to their lack of ability to recognize the truth of information. As for the political argument, the results are more nuanced. While political beliefs and idiosyncratic biases are recognized as contributing to the spread of false information, especially for the most conservative profiles, this is not the main reason people believe fake news.

While another study published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences suggests that the main reason for believing fake news lies more in the first proposition, that is, a lack of knowledge about the topics covered, the researchers of the study published in PNAS initially suggest. another hypothesis. The sharing of false information is not necessarily the result of belief or lack of belief, knowledge of the subject, but the result of regular use of social networks.

The need for recognition

By observing the use of the social network Facebook by 2476 participants, the researchers observed certain behavior, those who shared the most false information were also those who shared the most truthful information. In other words, the accuracy and quality of information is of little importance to these individuals. In research experiments, the most active 15% of participants were responsible for 30-40% of all false information shared.

For the authors of the study, this trend is explained by the reward system established in social networks. Strong reactions such as anger, amusement, confusion caused by false information would cause them to share. Individuals who find that their message has significant resonance tend to mechanically spread what they recognize as viral. In every experiment conducted in the study, habituation was the most influential factor before lack of knowledge or political bias.

But it also means that these in the end, the digital giants who hold most of the cards in reducing the impact of disinformation on networks. Most driven strategies and policies fake news focusing on the individual himself (education, education on social networks, etc.), one of the main levers must be activated on the part of the companies responsible for social networks.

By changing the way algorithms work, it is possible to break this vicious reward system that emphasizes false information in favor of a healthier system that emphasizes safer information from traditional media and/or reference institutions. The authors further suggest changing and/or complicating the publication system on thorny topics to regulate the spread of misinformation.

But without a legal obligation for the digital giants, it is unlikely that these companies will decide to adapt their algorithms to combat false information from the moment sharing and exchange become their business foundation.

Ceylan, G., Anderson, IA, & Wood, W. (2023). Sharing misinformation is common, not just laziness or bias. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pennycook, G., & Rand, DG (2019). Lazy, not biased: Susceptibility to partisan fake news is better explained by lack of reasoning than by reasoned reasoning. Cognition.

Pennycook, G., & Rand, DG (2021). The Psychology of Fake News. Trends in Cognitive Science.

Laser, DMJ, etc. (2018). The science of fake news. Science.

Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

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