Yesterday I shared on Facebook this clever article making the point that people online fall for fake news.
There always have been fake news stories online. I remember seeing articles like “Obama announces he will not step down at the end of his term!” and “Obama set to confiscate all guns — we must act now!” especially in the conspiracy theory circles of my 2012-13 days. I’d imagine this is not new. This is probably as old as the internet itself.
But these became much more common this year.
I blame the social media clickbait effect: when websites get money based on click traffic, they profit more from stories that generate clicks than stories that are true, provide a unique perspective, or give boring-yet-important analysis. In time, all click-economy websites will become Buzzfeed.
Even more interesting is my perspective (echoed by many others) that the social media clickbait effect affects conservatives more than liberals.
The success of Donald Trump’s candidacy has been at least partially blamed on the susceptibility of conservatives to clickbait-style media. From my experience on social media, I would agree.
The Huffington Post article uses Bernie as an example, which is a brilliant use of tribal signaling to convince conservatives that this effect is real. Most of the people who liked my post are conservatives, even far-Trump supporters. A more accurate example would have been to somehow demonstrate this to liberals, but they don’t seem to need any more convincing. The good ol’ “Obama announces emergency plans to stay in office as President until 2020.” would have been good enough.
Why does this impact conservatives more than liberals? Here are some of my possible answers:
- The media clickbait effect impacts skeletal websites more than full-flesh websites, and skeletal ones tilt conservative. By skeletal website I mean websites with generall low traffic, minimal content because it is new, and a general framework that gives the appearance of being a legitimate site, despite being owned by an immediate parent company that actually makes news. A full-flesh website has the same framework as a skeletal website, but has higher traffic and a large quantity of content. A good example of this distinction is Red Alert Politics being a skeleton site and Breitbart News being a full-flesh website.
- There is a large category overlap between conservatives and conspiracy theorists. This isn’t an even split. Conservative seems to be an over-category, and conspiracy theory fits within that, but not vice versa. So while all conspirary theorists are conservatives, not all conservatives are conspiracy theorists. You’d be hard pressed to find a liberal conspiracy theorist, but that doesn’t mean you will not find non-conspiracy conservatives (in fact, most are this). In addition, conspiracy theorists tend to have much lower standards for verification of truth. I speak from experience as an ex-conspiracy theorist, and also from just the defintion of a conspiracy theorist being someone who almost unquestioningly accepts ideas considered baseless or incorrect by most rational people in society.
- More educated people lean liberal, and more educated people will probably check sources before reposting/trusting an idea. This is interesting because I actually think conservatism is more correct on more issues when built from the facts to the narrative and not narrative to the facts. At any rate, I consider this the strongest argument.
- The conservative moral narrative of society running down is more suited to crazy, conspiratorial attention seeking than the liberal moral narrative of society progressing to better futures. It is easier to sensationalize headlines about doom and destruction than about the water supply in some-country-you-can’t-name increasing in quality by 5% over the last two years, but the latter are exactly what real life is. The vast majority of time, in a society improving daily by technology, the main stories supporting the liberal idea of progress are boring and don’t make good clickbait. So, clickbait sites can only survive on conservatism.
- The conservative disgust reaction is stronger than the liberal disgust reaction (also explains many other things too, homosexuality and transgender issues notwithstanding). Here is a link with a survey. I’m fairly certain it will correctly predict your party affiliation without asking any political questions.
- It just happened to happen within conservative circles before it happened in liberal circles. There is no actual explanation other than random chance, like the Butterfly effect. Some things just happen to form because of some arbitrary cause that doesn’t actually depend on anything in conservativism or liberalism, and could have just as easily gone the other way.
- Big money interests put forward online propaganda. Especially because of the media clickbait effect, this ad revenue is self-sustaining and even profitable. These same big money special interests tend to tilt conservative by definition of big money interests and also by definition of conservative.
- Conservative and liberal sites do this equally often, but because Facebook thinks I’m a conservative, it floats red news stories to the top of my newsfeed, yellow stories to the middle, and blue stories to the bottom or not at all. This makes me *think* it is more common among conservatives. This is entirely possible, although I’m afraid if I accept this conclusion that I would become an epistemic Facebook agnostic (we can’t know anything about Facebook), and I will put that on pause until someone comes out with a quantitative Facebook study (these do exist) in a few months.
To argument number three, one of my Facebook friends said that “It [being liberal] ‘s what their “education” has taught them.”
I’d say this is a common argument among conservatives. You go to college and they convince you that liberalism is right and conservatism is stupid, and after four years you’ve been thoroughly conditioned.
Certainly true: higher education is a liberal-leaning institution. Here is a link to an NPR analysis of the situation and changes in the past decades. Summary: we could be seeing a number of variables, according to NPR, like polarization increasing in general in society, an increasing number of women becoming a part of higher education (assuming women lean liberal), and insularity meaning wallbuilding is getting worse and people are listening to opposing views less often.
Not certainly true: college convinces students to become liberal. It’s really had to prove this claim. Here are some potential other explanations.
- Could their liberalness have allowed them to thrive in higher education, while conservatives have to fight an uphill battle and either avoid the process or choose state schools over known-liberal schools?
- Or, could liberalism actually be more correct, and therefore smarter people find it true?
- Or, does this association just run along in-group trend lines, and people live within insular bubbles?
- Or do conservative circles tend to promote entering the workplace immediately or 2 year or technical school, while liberal circles tend to promote going to 4 year university?
- Maybe education just forces people to be more ideologically consistent, and people enter academia with premises that, when followed consistently, lead to liberalism?
I would say (6.) it is because liberals are progressives, and progressivism’s insistence on Newness means they need new intellectual foundations. Since the university is the main source of new intellectual foundations, liberalism thrives there. Deconstructionist philosophy, for example, is an exclusively academic phenomena, but we see progressives picking up these premises to build their theory of radical social inclusivity and elimination of social constructs.