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The Brain Fake News Connection                                                                                    13

             How Your Brain Tricks

            You Into Believing Fake

                        Katy Steinmetz

          Sitting in front of a computer not long ago, a
          tenured history professor faced a challenge that
          billions of us do every day: deciding whether to
          believe something on the Internet.
                 On his screen was an article published by
          a group called the  American College of
          Pediatricians that discussed how to handle
          bullying in schools. Among the advice it offered:
          schools shouldn’t highlight particular groups
          targeted by bullying because doing so might call
          attention to “temporarily confused adolescents.”
                 Scanning the site, the professor took note
          of the “.org” web address and a list of academic-
          looking citations. The site’s sober design, devoid
          of flashy, autoplaying videos, lent it credibility,
          he thought.  After five minutes, he had found
          little reason to doubt the article. “I’m clearly
          looking at an official site,” he said.
                                                         intelligence agencies. And on July 31, Facebook
                 What the professor never realized as he                                                           Check Out Some of These
                                                         revealed that it had found evidence of a
          focused on the page’s superficial features is that                                                      International Channels On
                                                         political-influence campaign on the platform
          the group in question is a socially conservative
                                                         ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.  The
          splinter faction that broke in 2002 from the
                                                         authors of one now defunct page got thousands
          mainstream American Academy  of  Pediatrics
                                                         of people to express interest in attending a
          over the issue of adoption by same-sex couples.
                                                         made-up protest that apparently aimed to put
          It has been accused of promoting antigay
                                                         white nationalists and left-wingers on the same
          policies, and the Southern Poverty Law Center
          designates it as a hate group.
                                                                But the stakes are even bigger than
                 Trust was the issue at hand. The bookish
                                                         elections. Our ability to vet information matters
          professor had been asked to assess the article as
                                                         every time a mother asks Google whether her
          part of an experiment run by Stanford University
                                                         child should be vaccinated and every time a kid
          psychologist Sam Wineburg. His team, known                                                                  Bloomberg Television
                                                         encounters a Holocaust denial on  Twitter. In
          as the Stanford History Education Group, has                                                                       Get TV
                                                         India, false rumors about child kidnappings that
          given scores of subjects such tasks in hopes of                                                             SONY Movie Channel
                                                         spread on  WhatsApp have prompted mobs to
          answering two of the most vexing questions of                                                                    Euronews
                                                         beat innocent people to death. “It’s the                           Fox News
          the Internet age:  Why are even the smartest
                                                         equivalent of a public-health crisis,” says Alan           The ‘X’ Zone TV Channel
          among us so bad at making judgments about
                                                         Miller, founder of the nonpartisan News                          Kids Central
          what to trust on the web? And how can we get
                                                         Literacy Project.                                        Dimensions – A Sci-Fi Channel
          better?                                                                                                        Sound Emerge
                                                                 There is no quick fix, though tech
                 Wineburg’s team has found that                                                                     American Music Channel
                                                         companies are under increasing pressure to
          Americans of all ages, from digitally savvy                                                                  Wide World Xtreme
                                                         come up with solutions. Facebook lost more
          tweens to high-IQ academics, fail to ask                                                                      Cowboy Theater
                                                         than $120 billion in stock value in a single day
          important questions about content they                                                                            Lifestyle
                                                         in July as the company dealt with a range of
          encounter on a browser, adding to research on                                                                Prime Time Drama
                                                         issues limiting its growth, including criticism
          our online gullibility. Other studies have shown                                                                 Funnybone
                                                         about how conspiracy theories spread on the                          Reel
          that people retweet links without clicking on
                                                         platform. But engineers can’t teach machines to              SimulTV LIVE Events
          them and rely too much on search engines. A
                                                         decide what is true or false in a world where                Amazing Discoveries
          2016 Pew poll found that nearly a quarter of
                                                         humans often don’t agree.                                     Amazing Facts TV
          Americans said they had shared a made-up news
                                                                 In a country founded on free speech,                      Impact TV
          story. In his experiments, MIT cognitive
                                                         debates over who adjudicates truth and lies              Independent Cinema Network
          scientist David Rand has found that, on average,                                                                   Horror
                                                         online are contentious. Many welcomed the
          people are inclined to believe false news at least                                                             Global Military
                                                         decision by major tech companies in early
          20% of the time. “We are all driving cars, but                                                               ...And Many More!
                                                         August to remove content from florid
          none of us have licenses,”  Wineburg says of
                                                         conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has alleged
          consuming information online.                                                                      Over 130 WORLDWIDE channels for
                                                         that passenger-jet contrails are damaging
                 Our inability to parse truth from fiction                                                                 $9.99/Mo.
                                                         people’s brains and spread claims that families
          on the Internet is, of course, more than an
                                                         of Sandy Hook massacre victims are actors in an
          academic matter.  The scourge of “fake news”                                                        Get Our Set Top Box with over 500
                                                         elaborate hoax. But others cried censorship. And
          and its many cousins–from clickbait to “deep                                                       Games, over 130 channels, live events,
                                                         even if law enforcement and intelligence
          fakes” (realistic-looking videos showing events                                                   movies on demand, download any game
                                                          agencies could ferret out every bad actor with a
          that never happened)–have experts fearful for                                                     or app from Google Play, add your own
                                                          keyboard, it seems unwise to put the
          the future of democracy. Politicians and                                                            SD card and so much more for only
                                                          government in charge of scrubbing the Internet
          technologists have warned that meddlers are                                                                       $129.99
                                                          of misleading statements.
          trying to manipulate elections around the globe
          by spreading disinformation.  That’s what                                                     
                                                                                (Continued on Page 15)
          Russian agents did in 2016, according to U.S.
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