Last week’s post pointed out the risks to ‘The Reasonable Man’ in today’s world. Being ‘reasonable’ is essential when you read or hear ‘news’. Here are a few examples of misleading evidence – albeit some of it produced with good intentions.
On 5th April the Bloomberg (free) email newsletter on Covid put out the following amazing ‘news’:
Playing the Trump card
U.S. counties with high proportions of Trump voters have been some of the hardest to reach with Covid-19 vaccination. So why not try using Trump to convince them?
Since the former president hasn’t hit the road or social media (from which he is partly banned) to advocate for vaccines, a group of academics decided to test what would happen if they did the job for him.
The group crafted an ad, using a clip from when Trump called into Fox News and endorsed vaccines. Then they targeted the ad on YouTube at counties that had both low vaccination rates and smaller populations — places that other research has shown correlate with a higher likelihood of being Trump voters.
In counties that got the ads, about 100 more vaccine doses were administered than in places that didn’t over the course of a month — enough to send a clear signal that the endorsement appeared to help. That’s despite a small ($100,000) budget using just one social media channel.
“We were neophytes at how to run an online advertising campaign. I’m sure professionals could do significantly better,” says Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State University, and one of the authors of the paper.
Excellent, you might say, and Trump did indeed appear to endorse vaccines once on Fox news. So far as we know, in other public announcements, he rejected vaccination. If more people took vaccinations because of this manipulation of his words on Fox News – hey, what’s wrong with that?
The problem of course, is that the advertisement was misleading, to say the least. Trump fans are being persuaded that their idol has changed his mind and they should now be vaccinated. What is to stop another group from picking up a random quote from, say, a known supporter of vaccinations that appears to cast doubt on their safety or efficacy?
Most manipulation starts with the best intentions. But this advertisement is manipulation. Fake news would be a more accurate description.
‘The Capture’ is a six-part TV series first broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation in September 2019. It tells the fictional story of a British soldier trying to clear his name from an incident in the Afghan war. During many twists and turns, the evidence against him is removed by his defence lawyer’s manipulation of a video of the incident. The original video clearly showshim to be guilty. However, by clever editing, the video shown to the court ‘proves’ him to be innocent.
Further fake videos emerge in the series. It turns out that national security forces are behind them. Their justification for making the fakes is that they help obtain guilty verdicts in court of known, violent, terrorists.
Where do you stand? Is it morally right to ‘do wrong’ if the result justifies it?
Breaking News Today
It is so easy to create fake news! Consider the ‘story’ below:
“At an award ceremony in New York, ‘The Reasonable Man’ author, WAN Lik Hang, proudly accepted his Pullitzer prize by video link. “The Pulitzer Prize is the top award for achievements in newspaper, magazine, online journalism, literature, and musical composition,” Lik Hang commented. “My team and I are thrilled to accept this tribute to our writing and insights over several years.”
Sadly of course, this is utterly fake news – at least so far! We created the image and the story online at one of several web sites that enable this kind of thing. Another site enables you to create your story in ‘correct’ newspaper format. You can write what you like and edit ‘news’ and photos to look like the real thing.
It’s that simple.
What to do about it
As we pointed out last week, fake news is everywhere. Unfortunately, that also means that other news stories are suspect – even the true ones. If you read something in social media or from an unverified source, there are ways to protect yourself. They all mean more work and research. But if the news is important enough, you owe it to yourself to take the time and trouble – especially if you intend to pass on the news item.
Among others, Mind Tools gives excellent advice:
• Develop a critical mindset and ask yourself some questions about the story
• Check the source. It seems so obvious but if you were to read about Wan Lik Hang’s Pulitzer Prize only in the blog, it would be curious to say the least
• Check the evidence. In our fake story, there are only words – no facts of any kind
• Images are powerful but check them out. The photo in the advertisement about Trump approving vaccines has a happy feel but what is its relevance?
• Does it ‘sound right’? If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Yes, amazing things do happen – but not often.
Fake news has always been part of human history. Today there are so many ways to create and,especially, to publicise fake news. Digital techniques mean that almost any image or video can be ‘re-created’ to suite the story. Behavioural science and manipulation are less obvious but can be equally powerful.
Fake news may not matter much sometimes. But it erodes our trust and can have far-reaching consequences.
Worked on the article: