Daily Archives: November 9, 2017

What To Do About “Fake News”

In a recent post, I expressed worry that the objective findings of the Mueller investigation won’t matter because right-wing media won’t report them, and instead create their own false narratives. This leads Trump’s followers to actually believe these lies—its Clinton who is connected to the Russians, Mueller is a Democrat, etc.—which then puts pressure on Republicans to act based on these lies, and the politicians, fearing primary challenges, then either pretend to believe the lies in order to get re-elected, or are themselves so crazy that they actually believe the lies. So what do we do?

There are only 2 basic strategies I can think of: 1) educating the populace so they don’t believe the lies;  or 2) keeping the lies and misinformation from the people in the first place. Thirty years of university teaching, including at some prestigious universities, convinces me that the first strategy is problematic. Teach critical thinking, logic, and encourage students to take courses in the mathematical and natural sciences by all means, but reptilian brains full of cognitive biases leftover from our evolution naturally rebel. We are just so programmed to fall for bullshit. Better to mandate the teaching of critical thinking to young students, especially as a tonic to the religious indoctrination which typically undermines critically thinking for a lifetime.

The second strategy was once relatively successful in the USA when media was governed by the fairness doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC), introduced in 1949, that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was—in the Commission’s view—honest, equitable, and balanced. The FCC eliminated the policy in 1987 and removed the rule that implemented the policy from the Federal Register in August 2011. This set the stage for the rise of Fox News and right-wing talk radio that has coarsened political discourse and undermined truth.

Recently, Finland has made news for its relatively successful effort in combatting fake news. They have combined the approaches above, emphasizing both government action and the teaching of critical thinking in the excellent schools. Apparently, they have been more successful than anyone else so far.