Is “Fake News” Really About Apathy?

The media climate has changed rather dramatically over the last couple of years. We’ve long had outlets biased to the left or to the right (and everything in between), with half the country hating conservative sources, and the other half hating liberal sources. But what is new, at least to me, is the spread of intentionally misleading, if not wholly fabricated, information.

I’d imagine most of us are now familiar with the “Fake News” phenomenon that has taken over the political landscape since the 2016 election. What began as a very real problem of people creating and sharing falsified information has turned into a phrase used as a synonym for “that thing I don’t agree with.” This has served to simply compound the issue; the line between real and fake should be relatively clear, but it has been made hazy by all the rhetoric.

Some of the readings we have done so far (such as “Yes Digital Literacy, But Which One?”  and ” Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture“) suggest that this lack of media literacy is largely due to an incomplete education or skillset. And I don’t disagree that that is an important aspect, and is likely the leading cause in many cases. However, I question whether it is only culprit, or even the foremost one.

I posit that the spread of false and/or misleading information is also heavily influenced by simple apathy. There is a large contingent of the population who are not particularly concerned with the accuracy of the information they read and/or share. Their foremost criteria is whether they agree with the information, not whether it is tied to reality. Sure, they may actually believed it at first (which indeed goes back to the Digital Literacy issues), but once confronted with contrary evidence, they are unlikely to admit their mistake and alter their perspective. They are, in my experience, more likely to continue believing whatever it is they want to believe, unbounded by fact, data, or even reality itself.

Of course, none of this changes the importance of innovation and investment in Digital Literacy; that absolutely does have the potential to make some kind of difference. But in my view, there is something deeper going on – something even more sinister and dangerous than a simple lack of education, which is not something I say lightly as an aspiring teacher.

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One thought on “Is “Fake News” Really About Apathy?

  1. There have been some interesting studies around what people share (a big factor in the spread of misinformation) and a lot of people seem to rely more on the trust they place in whoever first posted the information than in evaluating the original source or the basic claims of the post. Facebook is designed to show very little information beyond a headline and makes it very easy to simply click “share” or “like” without reading beyond the headline. People had no idea during the election how many others were deliberately spreading misinformation, so it should be interesting to see whether people become more skeptical. … and if they do, what they learn about becoming more critical. Interesting times, indeed.

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