June 9, 2021

Fake News with Dr. Amber Hinsley


Sadly, we live in a world rife with fake news, misinformation, and disinformation, in what President Barak Obama called "a dust cloud of nonsense." In this episode, we talk with Dr. Amber Hinsley, a former journalist turned academic, about the problem of fake news, misinformation and disinformation, how our own beliefs affect what we see as fake or false information, and how to protect ourselves against these forces. Along the way we take some diversions into journalism, its future and the rise of citizen journalism.

Transcript
Craig:

Hi, folks, this is Craig van slyke. Welcome to the rational ignorance podcast where we talk about facts, values and living life. Well,

Andrea:

Hi everyone. I'm Andrea Christelle, a philosopher and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Sedona, Arizona,

Craig:

and I'm a business professor, author and rancher who lives in the middle of the woods and eras, Louisiana. We're here to have fun practical conversations with smart, interesting people to help us cut through the noise and get to what really matters.

Andrea:

Rational ignorance is an idea from economics, that basically means there is a limit to what we need to know. So we'll skip the small stuff, focus on what really matters and separate the wheat from the chaff.

Craig:

If you'd like we've entered a surreal world where it seems like the onion is taken over, you're not alone. A recent report from Politico found that roughly 1/3 of the people surveyed in a six country study reported saying false or misleading information about COVID-19 on social media, and that's just the information they identified as false or misleading. Whether it's COVID-19, or other health topics popular culture, politics, pizza gate or even the Pope. The spread of fake news and misinformation has created what President Barack Obama called a dust cloud of nonsense that can affect our beliefs and even our behaviors. Today, we're fortunate to have an expert who can help us understand more about fake news and how to guard ourselves against the forces that want to manipulate us. Unfortunately, it's not just outside forces that can lead us down a path of buying into false hoods. Be sure to listen to the end so you can understand how your own biases affect how we identify evaluate fake news. Dr. Amber Hinsley is a journalist turned journalism professor. She holds a BA in communication journalism from Truman State University, an MS from Kansas State University, and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin. Before heading to graduate school, Dr. Hinsley was a journalist for the Los Angeles Times working as a crime courts reporter and the city editor. She's a noted expert on the intersection of journalism and social media and on the future of journalism. Her latest research looks at the effects of how individual biases regarding fake news, misinformation and disinformation affect behaviors around COVID-19. Dr. Hinsley, welcome to the rational ignorance podcast.

Amber:

Thank you. It's great to be here.

Craig:

It's wonderful to have you here. Before we really get going, I wonder if we can clear up some language, can you help us understand how fake news misinformation and disinformation relate to each other? Because I think the language can get a little bit confusing for people. Right?

Amber:

It can. And oftentimes, people will use fake news as a blanket term to mean lots of different things. You know, in some cases, it's anything I don't agree with is fake news, whether or not it's actually intentionally misleading. There are lots of shades of grey when you get into talking about misinformation and disinformation. And some people even even use the term mal information. That one of the things we've seen in research, though, is that the average person doesn't make those kinds of delineations. So while in your academic research, there's been a great deal of time and effort spent on identifying what are the various forms of misinformation? And how can we define those, we found that in surveys, people don't make those differentiations. And so oftentimes, when we're talking, you know, to sort of everyday people, we just use the term fake news as a blanket, because that's what most people know.

Andrea:

I just wonder, Amber, even though ordinary people might not distinguish between misinformation and disinformation or mal information. I think one distinction that they do make is whether someone's doing something intentionally or not. And I think that that really gets at the heart of misinformation and disinformation. So can you talk a little bit about, you know, the field of journalism, which is your expertise, and sort of the ethical responsibilities to try to accurately report information? And and what's happening with, you know, so called journalists that seem to be deliberately or on purpose, you know, telling audiences things that aren't true, right.

Amber:

And one of the big factors there is to think about how do we define who is a journalist, you know, I come from the era where you had sort of journalists as a capital J. Journalists, you were journalists, because you worked for news organizations, you know, now is someone who was a talking head, you know, more of a commentator, or they someone who we're going to call a journalist when they're getting paid not to report objective information, which is kind of that hallmark of American journalism. They're being paid to espouse their opinion. And the problem is, is that we tend to have, again, using a blanket term called them all journalists, when in fact, what they're doing is not actively engaging in what we consider to be journalism, in terms of the production of objective, factual information that comes from multiple sides. You know, oftentimes, that's not not what they're there for, in terms of the ethics of, you know, how journalists approach their jobs as well as you know, fake news. You know, as I mentioned, hallmark of American journalism is objective journalism, but that's actually historically that's a fairly new approach, you know, the turn of the 1900s you still had what was called yellow journalism where it was, let's do it was revenue based. And let's promote these outrageous stories, regardless of whether they're true because it's going to help sell newspapers, you know. And then around the 1920s 1930s, you started to see more of this approach of objectivity. That's what we call a social scientific approach, where let's take back your the journalist job is to do some analysis to help people understand what is the truth, you know, with a capital T. You know, what, what's the reality of what's happening here? Is the approach now that we're seeing.

Andrea:

Yeah, you know, this might be taking us off topic a little bit. But I am curious about this revenue based aspect of journalism, because it seems that that is a legitimate need that journalists have, right, they have to produce revenue. And I just wonder how you feel like that's affected the field. And if you think that there's more of a role for public journalism, but

Craig:

by the way, this is a record for getting off topic. So Amber, you have inspired our new record.

Andrea:

That's my specialty. That's why I'm here, right? Yeah.

Amber:

As a former journalist I can talk about anything, whatever. Y'all want to talk about an.

Craig:

Andrea? Please go ahead.

Amber:

So I'm sorry, Andrea, could you restate your question?

Andrea:

Um, yes. I'm curious about a journalism's revenue model, and the need for journalists to generate revenue. And whether you think that that's been a problem, and that and perhaps contributed to fake news? And if so, if we have a greater need for public journalism?

Amber:

Well, in the context of fake news, you know, a huge driver of the production of fake news is revenue, right? It's getting, you know, especially on with online courses, with social media sources is getting those clicks. And that's how those sites are getting traffic. And that's how they're getting revenue. So there's been there was a lot of that still continues to be a lot of discussion about the problem. One of the problems with fake news is that it generates revenue for different organizations and different individuals, you know, in terms of revenue from the standpoint of an individual journalist, I think what we're seeing more and more is journalists are discovering that they have to create their own brand, you know, as local journalism takes has taken so many hits over the past two decades in terms of revenue and financing and funding journals to discover they have to create their own brand. And the result of that is, you know, in some ways, it's great because you get this very specialized journalism, in terms of you know, journalists will have their own weekly newsletter, that's very specifically a niche focus for specific audiences. But you've also got in the in terms of creating your own brand, is you have more of that gray area of it journalist who is the subjective truth teller, versus here's some opinions I have about the things I'm reporting on. And you have more of this blending that's happening, especially you're saying, as we get deeper and deeper into social media, that people want to see your personality. And that's kind of what how anyone sells themselves on social media. And journalists are really having to try to balance that, in very careful ways. In terms of public journalism, we've actually seen a growth in nonprofit journalism, which for some communities has been fantastic. And it's filled. You know, we talk about news desert, somewhere, you know, the the local newspaper will close up shop because they don't have ad revenue. And then you'll have either a foundation or in some way, you get some kind of nonprofit news organization that is able to come in and kind of rise from those ashes, and in some cases have been very successful. In other cases, they're still trying to figure out how to we self sustain. But covering covering news, in some places where there hasn't been.

Craig:

There's, there's still got to be a revenue model for that. Right.

Amber:

And they're still trying to figure that out? Yeah, yeah. Yeah. One of the issues with news and then I've seen in research, and they talk about his news is oftentimes considered what's called an inferior good, which is taken from the business side of things, and looking at, you know, is it really worth it for me to pay to read one news story, like, what's the value in that for me, and so it's considered what's called an inferior good. It's something that I can use over and over again, when people are not as willing to pay for it, especially when they think well, I can go over to this other place and get the same information for free.

Craig:

Right, by the way, that's an excellent tie in to rational ignorance, since that's the same basic premise. But it it seems like, you know, you've still got to have the revenue, you've still got to have that business model in place. But then you throw on top of it, the inability to control how the story gets propagated. So you know, we've had the big dust up in Australia with Facebook and Google, you know, about paying for news stories that they want to share. Well, you know, it used to be when you had a printed newspaper, somebody had to give you the quarter, or whatever to get that story and you could hear about it secondhand, but now you can you can just post a link You know, or copy and paste or do whatever to share that news story. So it seems like that's a pretty big problem because it's not only, you know, devalues the revenue potential for breaking a story, but it also makes it a lot easier to spread fake news.

Amber:

Absolutely, yeah, social media sites, if you think about it, they started not as places to share news, it was, hey, let me find this, you know, basically, let me find this person who was in my history class, and let's, you know, let's share pictures from the party last night, you know, and so these sites, these social media sites are having to now keep up with the different ways that people are using them, one of which is to share links, and figuring out who owns that information. It's really difficult. We've also seen the creation of this phenomenon, or this idea that if it's important enough, the news will find me. And that's something that's been generated from social media, you know, I don't necessarily have to engage as an active news consumer, because this whatever is going on is important enough, my community on social media is going to share that information. And and I'll find out about it that way.

Andrea:

Well, I think Amber, doesn't some of your research focus on how, look more traditional journalistic sources, sources are now turning to social media, and using that as an outlet.

Amber:

So I've got some recent research, looking at how journalists have used Twitter for communicating about crises in their in their communities. And so looking at it at this very local level of what are the local journalists doing and saying and sharing on Twitter, in particular, during your different types of prices in their communities. And so what we found is that, you know, by and large, it's they're using it to share objective information. And audiences, that's what what they're responding to, that's it's resonating with audiences that, you know, they're liking and retweeting that information, that objective information that journalists are sharing. And so in that way, the audience is engaging as perpetuating that journalism, right, they're then sharing that information with others. But what you see in certain types of crises, at least, is that people are differentiating between liking and retweeting certain types of information. You have, for example, when you have a community crisis, that's something that pulls the community together, such as with the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida back in 2016, what we saw was that journalists were sharing their opinions, because that was not breaking an objective norm, to say, you know, the terrible thing has happened in our community, we're all standing together. Here, there were hashtags being used, like Orlando, strong, things like that. And people were, were we tweeting, people were retweeted, and liking those comments, because it was reflective of how the community was feeling. But it was very different. When we looked at, for example, Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri, journalists, were not sharing opinions related to that, because it was such a divisive crisis in the community. And it was something that was still ongoing. And so we looked at journalists have to understand what the sentiment is of their community, and be very careful about what they're saying and how they're reflecting that sentiment, so that they can still maintain their credibility.

Craig:

I wonder if we could stee ... go ahead, Andrea, then mayb we can steer back to fake news

Andrea:

will, we can steer back there. And I was just going to ask about the most recent crisis that, you know, we've all been facing in all of our communities and around the world, which is the COVID-19 crisis and how Twitter has been

Amber:

Right? I've actually got a study that we've just submitte to a journal for a special iss e about misinformation and just avigating this information re ated to COVID-19. And for o r study, what we looked at was h w people were were judging the c edibility of information abo t COVID-19 on social media. And ou know, a few things we aske about with that is how, how ar they trying to determine the c edibility of information? Wh t signals were they looking for? And what we found is that in t rms of the actual content of the information on social medi , what they were looking for was information that they perceive as being authentic and believa le, which is actually ind of interesting, because i you think about those, those t o terms, authenticity and believ bility, they're actuall almost at opposite ends of the object of the spectrum where a thenticity is more reflectiv of I see this as truth. So it' hopefully factual, its objecti e, whereas believable an be wildly subjective, righ ? I can believe that conspiracy heories are believable. And e en though they're not based n actual facts, I can still beli ve them. So it's sort of nteresting. And that's where ou see people are really stru gling to navigate this in ormation about COVID. If th se are the two things that hey're looking for, in terms f what makes it credible, in ter s of the source of information a out COVID and what they were looking for, what resonated wi h people, what they said they we e looking for was sources who pr sented themselves or who th y appeared to be trustworthy and reliable. And obviously it's n t one of the questions is okay, ell, what are the markers tha people are using to judge What is trustworthy? What is reliab e? And so that's, that' coming next step and in resear hers, okay, well, when ou say you once you see someo e as a trustworthy source, what oes that mean? You know, like what, how is that person or or anization cueing you to bel eve that they're trustwort y. And then lastly, n terms of the cues that people ook for objective information is something that people said as really important when they were trying to judge the credi ility of information rel ted to COVID on social med a. And so, as a journalist that gives me hope, as a journ list in terms of the sup ort, or the reliance on ob ective information that peo le say they're looking for as well as your This can help olks who Republic hell, you'l work in public health and othe types of information producers related to COVID. and telling hem what, you know, using thi objective approach may be some hing that's going to reso ate more with audiences, nd they're trying to share in ormation about COVID-19.

Andrea:

If I could, I just wanted to ask you a little bit more about believability and authenticity. And that spectrum. I think I'm a little bit confused about that. Because it strikes me that if something is believable, I would think that it is that it is authentic. And it would be hard for me to believe something that isn't authentic, I guess I'm not quite understanding how those are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and therefore not

Craig:

That's because you' e not a liar. But I think that s part of it. You know, I can ee you thinking that way, because you're a truthful per on. And for you to be you kno , truthful and believable as authentic for you. But that's not necessaril

Amber:

I don't but I'm not the expert. Well, and I don't necessarily know that I am either. When it comes to this, we're we're all trying to navigate how were people determining what is credible information related to COVID-19. And so for this, typically, and oftentimes, people will conflate the two authenticity and believability that can happen. And so that's why we need some more research to figure out what do you mean, when you say that you you think this information is believable, or you say that it's authentic, but typically in other situations, so this is not specific to COVID-19. But in other situations where people have been asked about their perceptions about information and credibility of information, authenticity tends to be more closely tied to its actual, the source of this is traceable, like the sources of this information, we know where they come from. Whereas believability oftentimes is more about this reinforces what I already believe. And so then we're getting into the realm of confirmation bias. And that's where we see this can be more of a subjective judgment, more so than authenticity is often how people conceptualize. Okay,

Andrea:

so maybe it would be believable that we're all three in Hawaii right now. Right? That's, you know, we could believe that, but it's not authentic. That is not where we are right now. Maybe perhaps that's an example. Or it's authentic, that there was just an incredible winter storm in Texas, right, and a huge infrastructure failure. And that is something that did happen.

Amber:

But if you would have, you know, put that scenario

Andrea:

in front of someone a few months ago, they would think that it's not believable.

Amber:

Yeah, that's one way you can conceptualize it. And actually, because I'm in Texas, I can tell you that there were times during the past the week that that was happening, that I kept saying, I can't believe this is happening here. Because it's not something that it violates those expectations that I had when I moved to Texas, and year ago.

Craig:

Same in Louisiana. By the way, I've ordered yet another generator. So within the next few months, we'll have four generators.

Amber:

Oh, my gosh, maybe you'll be able to keep your power on if there's another store.

Craig:

Yeah. Yeah, I'm not taking any chances. You know, that the whole idea behind authenticity and believability is really interesting and messy. Because I think authentic can mean different things in different contexts. You know, authentic can be true to who you are. So like, if I go in to buy a new truck, no offense to any salespeople out there, but salesperson trying to, you know, feed me a line of garbage to sell me a high profit truck is that they're probably being pretty authentic, but they're not believable at all. So I think it's really caught. My point is, it's probably really context dependent. I want to go back to something that you touched on just very briefly, Amber, I think it was amber and in COVID. For a long time, it was such a fluid situation where I don't know how you assessed what was true and what wasn't true. Andrea's heard me go on about an incident I had on social media around posting a link to the wh OHS advice about masks, which basically said masks don't do any good. There's no evidence that that's too strong. At the time, they said there's no convincing evidence that masks help prevent the spread of the disease, which is not where things were going at that time. And so when, you know, what do people do in these really fluid situations where it's not entirely true, what the truth is, or where you have competing authorities, you know, telling you different things.

Amber:

Well, and I think one of the things to consider is where the information is coming from and what it's actually saying and that can be really difficult, especially when you're talking about scientists To get information. So for example, from that, who, from the World Health Organization report, you can pick and choose information from that, and then create a narrative based on the information that you've chosen from it. You know, and that you see this happening with, with other things like anti vaxxer. And climate change. And, you know, we see this where you can, you can cherry pick backs, and also, especially in these situations with COVID words, both the wood were no one has really dealt with this level of, you know, I mean, you're telling me a word, we're talking about epidemiology, you know, there's all these factors that are putting into this, and it's on a scale that we haven't dealt with in 100 years. And, you know, until our knowledge is very limited with this. And you know, so it is, it is confusing, and that was what we found in our research. And that's why we started doing this to the study that I was referencing, we actually started, but it was last March to May, is when we started collecting this data. So public was very new, and there was so much confusion about what you know, what is credible information, how do I determine it? And so we looked beyond social media, but that was kind of my area of expertise, which is the social media part of it, you know, and it really comes down to in that case, the sourcing, and who do you as individuals see as worthy and reliable, unreliable? And what the what are? What, were those people or that organization? What are they saying,

Andrea:

I was just gonna ask in your research about COVID-19, one of the things that you've written about is optimistic bias. And I wonder if you could explain what optimistic bias is, and how it's played a role, or optimistic bias,

Amber:

what in this context, what we found is that people were were likely to be like, okay, yes, someone with my same health issues, in my same age, they're more likely to get COVID than I am, right, I have this personal optimism that I'm not going to get sick, or that it's not going to happen to me. And we do that, not only with COVID, with, with all kinds of things, you know, who think in terms of risk management, we take risks all the time that if we saw someone else doing it, we would stop them and say, What are you doing like that? That makes no sense. So that's what optimistic bias is. And that's what we saw happening was that people optimistically believed that they would not get COVID, even though they knew there was a likelihood of other similar people getting

Andrea:

I'm definitely not on the normal curve for that. I think I have pessimistic bias.

Craig:

We did just start a podcast, though, you know, so we're optimistic that we won't be one of the 90% the pod fade after a few episodes? If I, if I could go back and clarify one, one quick thing on the the who question that I asked earlier. You know, I actually went to the who website, trying to discern what the science was saying. And so I know, you can cherry pick, but you know, I was on this. I wanted to know, you know, actually, I was probably trying to justify the fact that I just spent a couple $100 trying to buy masks, but it means sometimes even when you're on a, you know, you're on this quest for the truth, it can be really hard in fluid situations to figure out what that truth is, you know, you have the CDC saying one thing, the wh o saying something else, and that's where I think journalists can play a really important role, you know, especially if they're, they're trained in particular areas, you know, maybe their medical journalist or something like that, where they can go in and, and go through some of this and say, yeah, you know, the, but the studies, the who was looking at, you know, we're, we're not the latest, and now the CDC has got these news, or whatever the situation is, but it seems like that's another role where journalists could really help out a lot.

Amber:

Right. And one of the problems is unfortunate journalism is let's, let's be First, let's be quick, you know, this idea of get the information out there immediately. And if it's wrong, we'll we'll correct it quickly, kind of idea. And so one of the problems with that is that if you're trying to get the quick answer, you know, okay, let me go to who site. Okay, here's the first piece of information I found that, you know, support what people are claiming this report says, Okay, we'll go with that, rather than taking the time to do a deeper dive and do some comparisons and look at Okay, well, so what is the database on this video he is talking about? is this relevant information to the situation we're in now? You know, what other experts say about this and taking the time to pull that all together? Sometimes girls don't feel that they have that time, because there is such a rush to be first with getting information out there.

Andrea:

And with with COVID-19, one of the challenges really was to I mean, we didn't know, right, we were learning and the information was changing, and we were getting new and different and better information as things moved forward.

Amber:

You can't blame

Andrea:

that on journalists necessarily or the way something is reported. That's just the process of learning. Really.

Craig:

Yeah. Right. But But journalists still and I say journalist, I'm probably mean more of the current situation with journalism, you know, where it does force this be first and, you know, get clicks and all that kind of thing, that that's really changed the landscape of journalism. You know, again, that's just as a, you know, a fairly moderate observer. But you know, it used to be that long form journalism was a pretty common thing. You know, even in the daily paper, you'd have, you know, stories that would run multiple pages. But now, you know, everything's TLDR, you know, too long, I didn't read it. And so that that doesn't allow for a lot of getting into nuanced. That's actually one place where I think podcasts have really stepped in to fill a little bit of a void, because people will listen to an hour long podcast, you know, because they're in their car, or they're, you know, out on a walk or a jog or doing the dishes or something else. And so you're starting to see, I think that this is just anecdotal people turning to some of these podcasts from like the BBC, or, you know, the legitimate news organizations to try to get some more in depth information about these stories. But I don't know, you know, that's just my observation. I could be way off on that.

Amber:

Well, there, we know that there is, there's something to that with the popularity of podcasts that we've seen in the last few years.

Craig:

Yeah. And I think they're just getting started the next few years, vehicles are going to make it a lot easier to podcast to listen to podcast while you're driving. So it's going to be interesting to watch is just kind of an aside. So what you know, we hear a lot about fake news. Go ahead, Andrew. Sorry.

Andrea:

Oh, no. Well, just as we were talking about the field of journalism, I wanted to ask amber about this, because I feel like we often talk about the media as a as a monolith. Right? And is it like a single thing that exists. And I know that you've written about citizen journalists versus and you've been a professional journalist, and I just wondered if you could talk about the value of the profession and the way that it's perhaps splintering right into these new forms, maybe you know, your experience as a journalist, and then what you are observing as an academic? Well, I

Amber:

was, I had the good fortune to have been a journalist, and to come into the industry at a time where it was still financially doing well. But then I also experienced, you know, the beginning of what the industry was, like, why was so seeing that decline, for me personally, was was really difficult, because I believed in what I was doing, I worked at community sections of the Los Angeles Times, so they were very focused on local parts of Los Angeles. And so for me, that was what my area of interest was, let me dig into these smaller communities that make up the city as a whole and really get to know these small places. And the sections I worked at, don't exist anymore, like they're gone, you know. And so you have this massive organization like the Los Angeles Times that it was not financially sustainable for them to keep those smaller sections that they had going in. So now it is more of this model of coverage that's happening, you know, if I pull a publication, can you see that happening all over the US? I've done some other research about, you know, what, what happens in the community, when it loses its paper, we went into a small Kansas Community and did a case study of what what was it like for those people in the disconnect that they felt in their community when they lost their local new store? You know, so we see that the cause has an impact on people. But the problem is, of course, revenue wise, it's not, it's not sustainable in terms of you don't have the massive profits that she wants. And that's what organizations oftentimes are expecting to maintain. And it's just not feasible. And so you know, growing from that, then it's, it's been kind of exciting in some ways to see the birth of nonprofit news organization, and to see, we talked about citizen journalism, and what does that mean, you know, when anyone with with a smartphone in the camera can, in essence, the essence of citizen journalists, but is, is that how they're conceptualizing themselves? Right? are they seeing what they're doing as an act of journalism? And are they acting with the same sense and understanding of journalism? I guess we'll say journalism with a capital J. That's someone who is a professional journalist. And then the answer is, of course, it's not likely, right? Is there you know, this internal affairs, they're capturing the moment and here's the reality is I'm seeing it, and I'm going to tell you about it. Because oftentimes, they're not thinking about themselves in terms of I've got to get multiple sides of the story. And let me go interview people. It's just here's my truth as I'm seeing it, but as a society, we have to understand that the media is not monolithic, that when we talk about the media produces fake news, okay, well, who are you actually talking about there? Right. It's not all media, you know, especially if it's media that supports what you already believe. You're not likely to think that they're producing fake news. It's all of the other media that not doing the thing, not not reinforcing what you already believe. They're the ones who are the problem, right? Yes, they are. And then the society would agree with that.

Craig:

It was interesting and almost surreal to see how both sides of the political spectrum were throwing out the fake news moniker, you know, at anything they didn't like. And I think one side probably got a lot more carried away. With that name, then the other side, but both sides engaged in. And you know, at some point, it just gets to be so much noise. So I think I think President Obama, you know, with his metaphor was was spot on with all of the, but what, what can people do? So, you know, you have, I'm very skeptical of some of the fact checking organizations. And I'll try not to go on a rant about that. But I think some of them are not as interested in objectively assessing the truth of something as they might appear. But you know, so there are reasons not to believe those you have large, well respected institutions like the New York Times that have to have these public retractions, and multiple times over the last few years, and then you've got, you know, media that are clearly agenda driven. And so you go on and on and on. And what do people do about that? I think that's the big question that that a lot of folks struggle with is, you know, if you do want to be well informed, what do you do? Well, and

Amber:

this is a I mean, this is a really good indicator of why media literacy, education is so important, and why it needs to start at a young age and be continuous throughout life, if you kind of think about it in terms of Okay, a one shot, you know, inoculation is, is not enough, it needs to be something that's administered throughout the lifetime, as forms of fake news change as the form the platforms in which we get information change, you know, we need to be responsive to that. And so that's, you know, this is one one way in which we see media literacy, literacy, education is so important. But from a personal standpoint, one of the things that I talked about with my students as well as when I do talks like this, as I tell people to use what and I heard, like, talk with us, because I love the name of it, is the crap test. And it's CR aap. And it stands for different things. And so you can go through and look for you. So the the C and the crop test is currency. And what that means is ask yourself, Is this information timely? Or is this something from three years ago, you know, we see this happen, oftentimes on social media, somebody will share something, you oftentimes about, you know, celebrity who died, it's like, you know, that person actually died three years ago, you know, kind of a, that's a quick analogy that you stay with that. Next on this list of the crap past is relevant. And, you know, is this information important to my needs? Is this information, something that helps me make a decision? Is it something what's the relevance of this the first day in this is authority? And what that means those take a look at the source of this information? What is their expertise? Are they someone or some organization who actually has the knowledge to be speaking with authority on whatever the subject is, the next day is about accuracy? And is this objective information? We have to be careful about asking is this true information, because we have to remember that we all have different definitions of truth. And my truth may be different than your truth. And so this is as a journalist, why I tell people like rely on look for objective information, like, look for what, what are the series of facts that I see presented here? And then ask yourself, what's not your right, this is where you may have to engage in some personal research with people oftentimes don't want to do because it takes extra effort. And then the last on the crap test is purpose. And this is potentially one of the most important parts of it is think about the motive of the source of this information. What do they want you to do with this information? Is it purely objective sharing of information? Are they trying to persuade you of something or persuade you to do something? That that is for me, what centers on questions of credibility? So from a personal standpoint, that's, I would say, that's the starting point is applying the crap path?

Craig:

No, that makes a lot of sense, that's really close to how we teach information evaluation. Yours is more fun than ours is? Well,

Amber:

I can't take any credit. Yeah, I can't take credit for creating the crap path. This is something that's been out there. Actually, for quite a long time. You'll see it across several sources. If you if you do a search on it,

Craig:

when I lecture on it, I'm going to give credit to you so well.

Amber:

I can tell you that if you can do Google search and find it and all kinds of other sources, I

Craig:

think I think I have seen it before Andrew,

Amber:

but oh, well, this idea of media literacy, education. It sounds so important. And you know, Amber, I'm sure that you teach this to your students. But that sounds like something that everyone can use. Right? And that media literacy education is is something that we all probably need to engage in continually. There's actually several states now have in various levels of their state houses, different bills that are in support of some form of media literacy, education. It varies from state to state. And one of the big sticking points is the fundamental definition of what is media literacy. What do we mean by that? Because it can mean a lot of different things. And that's probably where a lot of these bills are going to get stuck is on some of these definitional questions that oftentimes are tied to political promptings rather Then what's going to be best for the citizens of our state? It seems to me if they ran into a problem like that, they just changed the name to information literacy. I think it's kind of the same thing. It Academy respects very much. So yes, very much. So it's, in a way it is, I think, probably even any kinds of attaching the word literacy to it, because then it people will see it as almost a value judgment. Because if you think about immediate literacy in terms of, you know, what do we mean by that? It's the ability to analyze media in different forms. And once you get into starting talking about things like analysis and evaluation and being critical, that triggers a lot of people, because what if what I see as truth is not deemed credible, if it is not deemed in the analysis, if you arrive at a different conclusion. What does that say about what I believe? Well, I

Andrea:

think it says that it could be it could be wrong, because

Craig:

no, I want to go down that same path. Because I and Andrew, you and I have talked about this at some length, you know, one of the one of the things that's really important to learning is being open to the fact that you might be wrong, you know, help me help me understand this better, you know, point out where I might be wrong. Yeah, but you know, I mean, nobody wants to be wrong. But we are lots of times what one of the things I think we run into and Amber, you mentioned this earlier, is we have trouble getting out of our own heads, you know, so if I, if I start to change my view, you know, I've got this cognitive dissonance going on, you know, that leads to confirmation bias and other types of biases. And so, what would you recommend for people that that genuinely want to get out of their own head and look at this as kind of that disinterested party that that truly objective third party, as opposed to somebody because you hold belief, you know, we're your site, you're psychologically invested in a certain respect, right?

Amber:

I mean, you're challenging. Oftentimes, it's seen as challenging someone's identity, right? You know, it's I'm, you know, it's not just about your name, it's about what, what your makeup is, in terms of you think about demographically, you know, who you are on the political spectrum, who you are in relation to race, gender, ethnicity, age education, I mean, just from those sort of five or six basic levels, think about how that defines who you are. And so when especially we see this with politics is once you start questioning things like that, it's a fundamental challenge to your identity. And that's why you get so much pushback and why people want to believe what they want to believe. And one of the big steps here is recognizing that if you want to talk to someone about inflammation, credibility, you may not be the most credible person to have that conversation with them. Because if, if they see you as if, if they go into the conversation, thinking, you're gonna challenge what I believe, therefore, I'm gonna push back on anything you say, you may not be the best source. And sometimes it's, it's hard to shut up and help them like help direct them towards another source that may help them see it another way. But you have to ask, instead of a better coach might be asking someone, what, what makes this information credible to you, but what makes this was credible to you, and coming from a place of genuine interest? And let's have a conversation about what is it that's credible to you here, you know, like, help me help me understand, what do you see about this. And then oftentimes, if it's, it's intriguing to me from a place from not being so challenging, it's easier to engage in those conversations. But oftentimes, we start from a place of argumentation, and that is not going to change anybody's mind

Craig:

really got to the heart of it, when you said help me understand. I mean, if you have a conversation with somebody, and you genuinely say, help me understand why you feel this way, why you hold this belief, you know, or whatever it is, and this goes back to authenticity. And you, you know, you authentically, you genuinely want to understand that person, you know, that then maybe you'll learn something, you know that one of the things that happens a lot when we get into these kinds of discussions is both parties are convinced they're right. And so neither one really comes in with an open mind. And that's one of the reasons we started this podcast is to try to, you know, have some conversations where, you know, we don't know exactly what's going on. And we want to explore these things and try to try to understand more deeply. So I think that's really the heart of that if you want to, if you want to understand what makes somebody believe a certain way, or why they buy into fake news, you

Amber:

have to really want to understand, right? And oftentimes, that's not the perspective that we come from.

Andrea:

You know, Craig, earlier, you said nobody wants to be wrong. And I think that's really worth thinking about, and maybe something that we reinforce right now in our educational system, like in the earliest stages, what people want is to get the right answer, right. And there's, like, you know, a positive value associated with being right. But really, when you discover that you're wrong, like that's where the opportunity for growth opens up, right? And so you don't want to be wrong all the time. But if you can learn something new that changes your previous understanding, and expands your worldview that should be seen as a positive thing. Like as educators, sometimes we don't always acknowledge the value there is in, in being able to recognize when we're wrong and being able to transform and grow out of that experience. But it's certainly an appeal to ignorance is, is also, you know, rational ignorance, right? It makes sense to not pursue some new sources. And I think, you know, that can be a cop out, too. I think we should, we should strive to acquire knowledge, but also be open minded about revising our points of view. But I think Amber's got, it's something, you know, really essential, and we've talked about this before is that our identity is often tied up with these beliefs. So it's not just that I can change my mind about, you know, some facts about the world that I don't associate with my own constituents sense of self. Right. But yeah, I recently changed my registration from being a non affiliated with a political party to being a Democrat, because I thought that it was important to be as effectively anti republican as possible, because I think that the republican party has just gone batshit crazy, right? There's no other description for what has happened to that party. And I will say, and I've shared this with you, Craig, that, that I don't enjoy my identity as a Democrat as much as I enjoyed my identity as a non affiliated registered voter, right, or, or an independent. And so I think that, you know, that really makes sense to me that I don't, I don't want to change this piece of my identity or change the way I'm thinking about something. Because it's, it's not just about being right or wrong about a fact. But it requires repositioning myself, you know, in the world around me, so so it's a profoundly existential matter, actually,

Craig:

I wonder if you really changed your identity, I think you're still, you know, you're still exhibiting the same identity, it's just down a different path, because you have certain things that you believe in, and you believe that one party is going down a path that is in strong opposition to those things that you believe in, and that an effective way to live who you are, is to make a more assertive statement about your opposition to that to the Republican Party, which you can do as a Democrat, and it's harder to do as an independent, I don't think you really changed anything other than what's on your voter registration card.

Amber:

Well, I would say that there's something behaviorally that that made her think I have to make this change. Right. And so that I mean, to me that that says that there is some sort of maybe not a fundamental identity shift. But it's something that said something that triggered I have to change the way maybe that it's maybe not a way that she sees herself, but that as others see her going from I'm this nonaffiliated independence to someone who is now registered for the world to see as a Democrat, you know that in that way, you can see that there, she felt that there was a need to change how others see her. So I'm going to cycle it that way. Analyze you a little bit here, Andrea, not that either one of us are trained in psychology, but we're going to have fun with it.

Craig:

Yeah, I was thinking that this is a good little bonus episode, you know, psychoanalyze

Amber:

the host here. What you signed up for,

Craig:

but when you hit go ahead, and you and they don't want to kind of switch gears a little bit. Go ahead. That was your opportunity to step out of this cycle, off the couch, so to speak. So although i think that that could be a really good episode, yeah. What what are these things mean about identity? I mean, you want to get me on a couch going from a city boy to owning a farm, you know, God knows what kind of psychology was going on there. But when I think another key maybe Amber, I want to get your in as your your take on this, how to deal with all of this. If, if, if whether or not something is fake or accurate, isn't going to make any kind of real difference in something you care about, it seems like it's not worth the time to try to chase it down, you know. So if I read something that says, you know, Wendy's, it has a better taste than McDonald's.

Amber:

I mean, that might be fake, but I don't care. I don't go to either one of those places, you know. So I think that's another key is, you know, you've got the crap that you brought up earlier. But there's also this idea of don't waste any time if it doesn't make any difference, right. And that's where we make choices every day on, we're inundated with information. And so I have to make choices every day, based on what am I going to choose to believe? What am I going to follow up on to decide if I choose to believe it? What do I just not care about? And this is fundamentally gets to the problem with fake news is that you fake news, it causes confusion at its core, right? And that's what it's there for is to cause confusion, because what happens then is that if it's confusing, I'm going to disassociate with it right? Or I'm not going to expend the mental effort to figure it out. And so what What then happens is you get, especially in the political realm as you get people who are disinterested have decided they're disinterested in politics, or they're disinterested in finding out more information. So then this can lead to a host of problems when you've got folks who are coming in as what we like to call bad actors, and producing volumes of fake news, or at least sowing confusion about what is fake news. That's where you see historically, authoritarian regimes come in and take over very easily because people are either disinterested politically, or just have the sort of disinterest maybe isn't the best word for it. But just this approach of I don't know what to believe, therefore, I believe nothing.

Craig:

There's but there's also a part of me that it's kind of pointless in some respect, and I'm going to go further than I really believe here. You know, I'm to the right of Andrew. I mean, I'm not way to the right, but I'm certain I'm kind of a right of center libertarian. Go ahead.

Andrea:

To the right of me for sure. Yeah.

Craig:

Yeah. But but the low bar, that's a low bar. But you know, when when I was talking to people who were upset about the election, either four years ago, or more recently, it's kind of the difference Do you think it's really gonna make to your life, I mean, you know, maybe on the margins, but if you I was talking to somebody just the other day said, you know, the best thing you can do, if you don't want to be bothered by upset by all this stuff, is just not watching it. And they had a point, you know, I can't do much about it. in a lot of respects, I know, Andrew is not going to agree with me on this, but in a lot of respects, the two parties, you know, have gotten to where, at the end of the day, what they actually enact is pretty similar. I mean, I know there are things that one party will enact that the other party wouldn't. And so it's kind of understandable. I guess what I'm trying to say is painting. So one, one could be there's too much for me to figure out. So I'm just not going to pay any attention to that. That's one reason to kind of withdraw. But another reason to withdraw is that you feel powerless to do anything about it didn't, it didn't matter who I voted for, for president, you know, President Trump was going to carry Louisiana, you know, when I lived in Arizona, maybe it would have made a difference, although it didn't want to move there. But I don't know if you get my point. And I see if you can see, Andrea is about climb through the camera at me.

Amber:

Yeah. But I would say that goes back to my point of and historically, that's when authoritarian regimes come in and take over, when you have people who are disinterested, who have just given up and say it doesn't matter, that oftentimes opens the door for you know, in a democracy, the one of democracy functions the way it should, you can afford to have a little more of that the centrist. But, you know, again, just I keep saying like, if you look at historically, that's about the time that the fastest came in and took over Italy, and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany was when you had people who were disinterested, who were confused by what was happening. That's where we get to the problem. So that's why fake news and misinformation, disinformation, concern me so much. From the standpoint of what does this do to us as informed consumers of information, not just news, the consumers of information? What does this do to us? What does this do to our ability to critically analyze information that we're presented with? When our knee jerk reaction is, I'm just not going to care? Because it's probably not going to matter in my life, like that's coming from a place of privilege that is very concerning. For the future of democracy, in my opinion,

Andrea:

I think it really reinforces the role really reinforces the role of journalism, in a healthy democracy. Right. And for it for people to be able to participate effectively. They need to know what's going on, they need to have accurate information. And we've made it very difficult for people to have confidence in the information that they're getting. And can I agree, absolutely. This idea that, you know, being in a democracy entails certain responsibilities, right? It's not just you know, we talk about like, I don't want to do this, because it's not my preference. But really, we have responsibilities that sit as citizens, they're not all optional. And we've made boating optional in this country. It's not optional in all democracies. But whether or not you know, we're legally required to participate in the system. We do have responsibilities and responsibility might make it sound a little burdensome, but it's also fun. I mean, if you think about the history of the world, the opportunity to participate in and shape our government is a unique privilege. And you know, when you were talking about the reporting that you were doing for the Los Angeles Times and really connecting to these smaller communities, providing them with information and and really something to respond to and then take an active role in in shaping communities. So I I think that, you know, when we talk about the health of democracy, it depends on citizen engagement and for citizens to engage meaningfully. They need reliable sources of information. And so it just I think, brings us back to the importance of journalism as a profession.

Craig:

Yeah, I would agree with that. Ethical journalism, right.

Amber:

That there's back to how do we define what is journalism? And who is the journalists?

Craig:

Yeah, in a way.

Unknown:

So go ahead.

Andrea:

No, go ahead. I was just gonna sort of go ahead and finish that thought. And then we'll move to some practical steps that folks can take.

Craig:

I think one of the things that's really been a problem with the way media has gone is this. You use the term news desert or media desert, Amber's early on, you know, that this inability to get in depth information about what's going on locally. I mean, when I ramble on about being disengaged in the political system, I'm really talking about the national at the national level, you know, because I don't I mean, I wonder how we can make an impact, but you can certainly make an impact on who's going to win the local school board election, or get on the what we call the police jury here, which I'm still not sure exactly what those folks do. But you know, that that kind of thing. And I think that this is a huge problem. This, this dearth of reporting, that's local, there been a number of times I've tried to find something out about what's going on here locally, and can't find anything. And we're not I mean, we're not a big community, but we're not a tiny Can you ever a lot of people that live around, so I think that's, that might be a spot where maybe we hope, maybe hopefully, we can see more of these nonprofit news organizations come up in communities like ours, we have local television stations and radio stations, a newspaper, but you know, they're pretty limited in what they report posting. And that's where you can see citizen dual citizen journalism, whether or not they conceptualize themselves as being journalists, but citizen journalism, kind of coming into play here, especially in social media platforms, I'm

Amber:

just thinking about in my own community, you know, I live outside of the metro area proper. And so our local school board doesn't get covered a whole lot, but we have an election coming up. And so we're where I'm seeing people filling that void is they will create Facebook groups for like minded individuals, and they'll be sharing information about the school board candidates. But oftentimes, it's it's not objective is, hey, here's this post that this school board candidates made. Let's analyze what what they're what they're saying here in this and go. So yes, there's some analysis happening. But it's not necessarily objective analysis. You know, and there's not what I would consider to be healthy conversations that are happening there in terms of some give and take with discussing to our local school board candidates and what do they stand for? But it makes it very difficult as a parent in this community to know of these seven candidates who are the three that I should vote for, because I'm getting such different information based on which of these Facebook dependents. So

Andrea:

I just wanted to ask you, you know, we talked a little bit about the crap tests. We're all glad to know about that. Now, that's one strategy that we can use. But when it comes to COVID-19, I mean, it looks like we are finally, you know, moving towards getting on the other side of that, but we're not there yet. What can people do to avoid misinformation? About COVID-19? Well, this

Amber:

is the beauty of the crop test is it can apply to almost all information. Just think about the way that your information related to COVID has changed in the past year. You know, if you look at, for example, you know, the crop test the currency, the first part of it, is it timely? Where did this information come from? When was it produced? You know, where did it come from? Who's the source on this? Is this a source that I trust? Now we're getting into people having debates on whether they should continue on mass, a lot of states are repealing their mass mandates? Or if they have them to begin with they're they're starting to pull them back, including my current state of Texas, you know, so is that, for me, as a citizen of the state of Texas is my question as well, what sources of information about why this is happening? Are do I perceive as credible? And then how is that influenced my behavior going forward? You know, what, what am I going to choose to do? And that's where the question of credibility of information is so so important, because it does influence not only am I going to keep going to mass, but am I going to get a vaccine? And if I am, which, which vaccine Am I going to take, you know, which so there's so much information tied up still in COVID. And that information is still changing. But hopefully at this point, we've all like it started to stabilize, I guess you could say in terms of the information that we're seeing, but you can still find information out there that people perceive as credible that a lot of us would not, or they will perceive it as believable when a lot of us would not. And I would say for for folks thinking about, you know, information just in general is when you read something or you see something want something and you think yes, or aha or even gotcha, stop and think about why you're thinking that check Your bias, right? What is it that triggered you to have that reaction? When you had that reaction? Is it because it's reinforcing what you already believe? Did you stop and think about is this belief I have actually something that is credible that is based in that truth, science, however, we're going to define those things. But really watching her own biases is a really good place to start. Great advice. Amber, what

Craig:

what are you thinking about researching next? Where are you gonna go with all of this?

Amber:

There's a lot that we can do with this. Some of the research that we have out the thunder review right now is related to people's confidence and their ability to identify misinformation. So I'm interested in looking at, alright, so when you feel confident, what what's driving that? What are some of the predictors of you feeling confident, but then moving beyond that it is, we have to recognize that confidence does not equal competence. And so then beginning to look at people who are confident and their ability to identify misinformation, or they actually competent in doing so because what some of the early research is showing right now, is that that's not the case,

Andrea:

as like this might be inversely correlated.

Amber:

It really depends. And so that's why we started looking at things like demographics. And so how are demographics of the functioning as like predictors of confidence and identifying fake news and how you know, the importance you place on some of the credibility measures I talked about, like believability and authenticity and objectivity? How are those predicting the competence that you have and your own ability to identify things and then taking it to the next step and actually doing an experiment to determine people if they're high confidence, or they also high competence and identifying misinformation? That's interesting.

Craig:

You think it's there's going to be almost a trait level, overconfidence construct,

Amber:

there were somebody just tends to be overconfident about everything. We again, previous research, not necessarily related to COVID, but just in general is that people, especially when they feel like they're being compared to others, they tend to overcompensate by being overconfident in their own abilities to do anything, or for inversely, if they feel that they're being compared to others, then they see the people as being better than them, they're going to be under confident in their ability to do some so probably they're really high or really low and not maybe much in the middle interesting. Emperor's or someplace people

Craig:

can go to learn more about your research

Amber:

worth a lot of my research right now is because the bills and academia move slowly. Is it still actually under review, it's in journals, I do have my personal website where I put up in PR, I put up information about studies as they've been published. But what I would recommend right now actually is folks who are interested in doing this, there's some other really great podcasts out there, in addition to this one that do some exploration into just the media in general. Looking at Fitness specifically as well as just the use of others to help them learn more and broaden their base of knowledge on anything that interests

Andrea:

Yeah, I really just want to put in a plug for ambers website. It's a fantastic website. It's so accessible and well designed. Can you tell? It's not like most academic websites?

Amber:

Say, because I started my professional career as an academic. Yeah.

Andrea:

And what is your website?

Amber:

If Amber, hein please flee calm. So it's pretty easy to find on there, I have details about the classes I've taught, including I have pot of fake news class, which was a really fun and interesting class that I taught. We're working on, potentially a proposal to do that, at a larger scale and my current University, and that you also know if that details about research projects that are ongoing, as well as things that have been published that's more kind of on the research side of things. But you know, and oftentimes, academic research will get picked up and disseminated by sources that are better at breaking it down and not putting it into academic space. The study I talked about earlier about the journalists looking at looking at how journalists are using Twitter as crisis communication tools and the communities that was featured a couple months ago by the American press Institute. So service journalism, Think Tank type of places will oftentimes pick up information that's relevant to journalism and put it reformulated in ways that are more accessible to the everyday person who is not an academic read.

Craig:

The fake news class is not a how to class, right?

Amber:

No, no, fortunately, not. We had a lot of fun. That will be trying to move past like the initial conversations about like, what is fake news and really diving into how do you fight fake news? What are some strategies for it? Like we had, we had a lot of fun in that class. So

Craig:

as your I'm sorry, I interrupted. You

Andrea:

know, I just wanted to thank amber so much for being with us today. And you know, not only talking about fake news and some things we can do to identify it, but also you know, how to pay attention to ourselves and be aware of our own biases and how you know, that might contribute as well. So thank you so much for being with us today.

Amber:

Thank you.

Craig:

The rational ignorance podcast is sponsored by Sedona philosophy a completely unique tour company that uses sedonas amazing natural environment to unlock personal growth and insight, exploring nature, culture and history with a philosophical twist. Visit Sedona philosophy.com to learn more.

Andrea:

Thanks, Craig. If you enjoyed this podcast hit the subscribe button, please rate review and tell your friends until next time