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People Who Know How the News Is Made Resist Conspiratorial Thinking (arstechnica.com) 368

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: Conspiracy theories, like the world being flat or the Moon landings faked, have proven notoriously difficult to stomp out. Add a partisan twist to the issue, and the challenge becomes even harder. Even near the end of his second term, barely a quarter of Republicans were willing to state that President Obama was born in the U.S. If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem. But a recent study suggests a very simple solution helps limit the appeal of conspiracy theories: news media literacy. This isn't knowledge of the news, per se, but knowledge of the companies and processes that help create the news. While the study doesn't identify how the two are connected, its authors suggest that an understanding of the media landscape helps foster a healthy skepticism.

[...] "Despite popular conceptions," the authors point out, "[conspiratorial thinking] is not the sole province of the proverbial nut-job." When mixed in with the sort of motivated reasoning that ideology can, well, motivate, crazed ideas can become relatively mainstream. Witness the number of polls that indicated the majority of Republicans thought Obama wasn't born in the U.S., even after he shared his birth certificate. While something that induces a healthy skepticism of information sources might be expected to help with this, it's certainly not guaranteed, as motivated reasoning has been shown to be capable of overriding education and knowledge on relevant topics.

[...] As a whole, the expected connection held up: "for both conservatives and liberals, more knowledge of the news media system related to decreased endorsement of liberal conspiracies." And, conversely, the people who did agree with conspiracy theories tended to know very little about how the news media operated.

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People Who Know How the News Is Made Resist Conspiratorial Thinking

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  • How News is "Made" (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 )

    People who understand that mass media is nothing more than a branch of some corporations PR department, tend to not believe the unverified B.S.spouted by mass media.

    Film at 11.

    • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:28PM (#55824287) Homepage Journal

      It's not quite that simple. It isn't that they are mouthpieces for corporate PR, so much as that they don't always look too carefully at the PR blurbs that corporations send out, nor apply a healthy enough dose of skepticism.

      The problem fundamentally is that at the local level, journalism doesn't pay very well, and only a few people are lucky enough to make it to the top tier TV/radio/newspaper outlets where it does pay well. This means most of the best and brightest tend to avoid the whole field unless they are really motivated. You have to assume that most of the people doing the reporting and investigating did not double-major in anything, and have no deep knowledge of any other subject besides communications, lack solid grounding in statistics, and so on, which makes them easier to mislead. And by the time they get old enough to be cynical enough to distrust the corporate PR stuff, they're too expensive to keep on the payroll.

      Of course, eventually even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and there are a lot of journalists out there, so in aggregate, mistakes tend to be self-correcting eventually, but it's a very real problem, and IMO is getting worse with each passing year.

      • Indeed. Most people have actual jobs for a living, and of those, a fair fraction actually develop some degree of expertise in whatever it is they do. Journalists...politicians...what exactly is it that they do for a living or at the very least go to school for? Running their mouths. It takes about seven years to learn a job. What's a 25 year old pretty face on camera an expert at?
      • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @05:49PM (#55824831) Homepage Journal

        Of course, eventually even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while, and there are a lot of journalists out there, so in aggregate, mistakes tend to be self-correcting eventually, but it's a very real problem, and IMO is getting worse with each passing year.

        As of last week, CNN was continually bandying about this story, that the Trump administration had handed down a list of "banned terms" to the CDC.

        Thing is, there is no such list, and no one ever said any terms were banned... but CNN has yet to announce any sort of retraction for the blatantly and demonstrably false claims they're perpetuating.... and they're far from the sole villian in this regard (looking at you, MSNBC and Fox).

        Ergo, I don't expect much if any self-correction in the near future, any more than I expect banks to self-regulate without destroying the economy.

    • "Next on 'How It's Made'..."

      "News!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:13PM (#55824181)

    Sometimes the conspiracies are true and worse than we ever imagined.

    • All the craziest conspiracy theorists are part of the few conspiracies that are true.

      They're acting like gibbering fools to discredit those telling you the world is flat.

  • Bill Hicks 1992 - https://youtu.be/5uyCJKEMOx8?t... [youtu.be]

  • by H3lldr0p ( 40304 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:18PM (#55824215) Homepage

    No. I'm being serious. Having a deep understanding of yourself, having an identity that goes beyond "I am for X" & "I am against Y" provides an bulwark against propaganda and conspiracies. Watch kids. They start out believing everything parents tell them. Once they take on traits that their parents don't have, you can see them begin the first phases of critical self-assessment.

    All of this can be achieved in many ways. The best comes in the form of exposure. Exposure to philosophy. Exposure to culture. Exposure to other people and their lives.

    You want to stop conspiracies and propaganda dead in its tracks? Get your kids out of your comfort zones and into the real world.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by HornWumpus ( 783565 )

      Having a 'full of shit' uncle is key to teaching bullshit detection. And it's great fun for the uncle.

      Suggestions:

      Rules to burping. If you burp and you're inside, with a girl, who's not a part of your family, then you should say 'excuse me'.
      Say 'now' when mom is looking for 'please'.
      They are made of cells, which are like tiny legos. (gotta sneak a truth that sounds like bullshit in)
      Beer and chocolate cake is a balanced diet. The only reason they have to eat vegetables is because they are too youn

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @05:24PM (#55824665)
      And not just friends who think like you do. Get out of your comfort zone, away from your echo chamber. Find something in common with people who are different from you. Play racquetball at the gym with that liberal hippie neighbor. Go on camping trips with the conservative guy from work. Go rock climbing with your old roommate's gay cousin. Talk with them, get to know them, become friends with them.

      Once you do that, you start to learn that we all have more in common with each other than differences. A lot of the propaganda will then become transparent - the usual MO is to dehumanize the "enemy" prior to tearing them down. But if you see, no, if you know those people are human, it's impossible to dehumanize them.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Anybody that tries this is already a critical thinker. A vast majority of Republicans do want a simple truth and they do not care whether it is faked or wrong as long as they can believe in it. Incidentally, a lot of Democrats are not much better.

        The problem with this type of advice is that it does not reach the people that need it.

    • by Dread_ed ( 260158 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @06:19PM (#55825025) Homepage

      Very interesting post. I remember as a child having a very firmly defined sense of right and wrong, truth and non-truth. It was binary and relatively uninformed, however as I began to read the encyclopedias at my house I developed a system of grading "truth" and knowledge that was no longer binary. There was true, false, told as true (or false) when it was known to bet the opposite, told as true (or false) by many but unsubstantiated, generally known as true (and it is not), generally known as false (and it is not), generally known as wither true or false (and it is!), reported as true (or false) merely for entertainment, reported as true (or false) merely to be contradictory, reported as true (or false) merely to be inflammatory, devils advocacy (I didn't call it this as a child, I leaned the phrase much later when accused of doing it by a teacher)...There were more, many more.

      After a couple of years of this, at about age 9, I realized that the vast majority of human beings I was forced to interact with were completely full of shit, had no regard for actual truth and knowledge, and carried around a bunch of completely false information in their heads that allowed them to justify their own actions without ever engaging in any serious introspection or circumspect examination of reality.

      Nothing I have seen in the rest of my time on this planet has contradicted this thought with regard to the vast majority of humans.

      The problem with exposure as a panacea for this type of pervasive thought is that people continue to bring themselves with them to their new areas of exposure. They go to church, and because they are judgmental and small minded, turn God into a judgmental and small minded reflection of themselves. They go to school, and because they are both insecure and tyrannical, they turn their schools into adult daycare with whacked out cultural rules that prevent humans from ever having a real interaction with other humans. They go to work, and because they are obsessed with their own success as a means to quiet their own insecurity and inadequacy, they create an environment where everyone needs to watch their back, must be guarded, defensive of their position and reputation lest someone stomp all over their future prospects. Ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

      I get what you are saying though. Exposure is key, like the Mark Twain quote about travel implies. However, it also takes a receptive spirit for that exposure to do it's work.

      What is missing is simple, and can be summed up in one word: Humility.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:21PM (#55824239)

    When you look at the "conspiracy nuts" you will notice a pattern. It is usually people who feel that they are "left out", that they're not in an "in" circle in whatever way that may be defined. Usually, it means that they're left out of being one of the "knowing ones", the ones that share a secret or at least something that elevates them above the others, something that gives them an "edge", if only a perceived one.

    And a conspiracy theory allows them to feel that they belong to the "knowing ones" for a change. Because they now know something, something "secret", that everyone else doesn't know. And they knew it first!

    Funny enough, whether that's true or even possible doesn't really matter. What matters is that they know it, and they knew it before the "smart" people did.

    This is a powerful motivator. Because it lets you feel superior. You "get" it, you understand, you are one of the knowing ones, and the others, those sheeple, they don't. They are clueless, they don't understand, they don't know.

    If you're usually the clueless one who neither knows nor understands, this can motivate quite a bit. And it can motivate you to cling to it, no matter what. Because letting go would require you to admit that you've, as usual, been the clueless idiot.

    • Case in point: The Apple-hater crowd on Slashdot. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, they persist in believing that all iPhone owners are fanbois who just want the latest shiny, that Apple hasn't been able to innovate since Steve Jobs died, and that the next Samsung/Nokia/Motorola/whatever Android phone will be the "iPhone-killer."
      • Android and iPhone is a bit like Democrat or Republican. Everyone's taking sides and everyone's trying to convince everyone that their side is right and the other is the spawn of the devil when essentially both sides are just out to fleece you, don't really care about you but only care about the well being of their shareholders.

        The main difference is that with Android and iPhone, that's basically the idea behind it. With Dems and Reps, it's mostly sad.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Well, from where I stand, Android and iPhone are both pretty bad and an utter disgrace. All expensive phones are targeted at ripping of the buyer. The only thing here is that there are no cheap (new) iPhones, which tells you something about Apple or rather their cult followers.

        • A new iPhone SE starts at $349. Cheap enough for you? BTW, calling Apple product owners "cult followers" identifies you as a member of the conspiracy.
          • Numerous Android phones are under $100, leading everyone to conclude that the cult is real as you have flagged yourself a vocal member that dishonestly hand waves that $349 is "cheap."
            • Apple doesn't do the low end. They never have as far back as I can remember. You want to spend less than $100 on a smartphone, buy an Android. If you want a high-end phone, the iPhone is roughly as expensive as its Android equivalents, so it's pay your money and take your choice.

          • by gweihir ( 88907 )

            $349 is not "cheap" for a person with an average salary. But being out of touch with reality is one of the signs of a cult membership....

  • Correlations (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:26PM (#55824265)

    Did you know that the rates of ice cream consumption and murder both rise at almost the same rate? That's because people get irritable when it is too hot for their comfort.

    The entire basis for this article is meaningless, "While the study doesn't identify how the two are connected, its authors suggest that an understanding of the media landscape helps foster a healthy skepticism." Correlation DOES NOT EQUAL causation. The study basically discovered nothing at all.

  • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

    This "journal" is a McCune operation; the ultra wealthy widow of a banker that funds all manner of establishment approved non-profits and academics. In addition to being the ultimate paymaster of no end of well connected non-profits they fund lots of (D) campaigns in the North East [1,2].

    1. https://www.followthemoney.org... [followthemoney.org]
    2. https://www.followthemoney.org... [followthemoney.org]

    Enjoy your establishment kool-aid. It's telling you want you want to hear so I'm sure the fact that it's 1% "bankster " funded "research" won't

  • They make much of (supposedly) a quarter of Republicans "willing to state" that Obama was born in the U.S. (citation needed).

    However in the meantime 100% of Democrats seem to STILL think Trump has some kind of magical tie to Russia, even though it turns out Hillary paid for the report the FBI used [dailymail.co.uk] to make that claim. Even though Trump keeps doing things Russia does not like at all [cnn.com].

    Someone still has a long ways to go before they shed "conspiratorial thinking", but it's apparently not the people who "know ho

    • Every partisan individual in the US is a conspiracy nutter. They have been hoodwinked into thinking that every person of the "other party" is out to get them.

      In reality, the only people out to get them are the ones running the parties.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        Indeed. Or rather the ones running the parties already have them and have managed to compromise any rationality they may have had completely. So these people are right about being victims, they are just completely delusional of who they are victims of.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      Hey you know what's funny? That dossier was funded by Republicans first! Ha ha!

      So those 4 grand jury indictments so far are just what? Imaginary? The emails? The meetings with known Russian operatives? I guess all that is just imaginary as well?

      And let's not forget that Trump refuses to divest himself from his business and won't divulge his tax returns. I wonder what one would find. Maybe Mueller will shed some light after taking most of the Trump cabinet to the cleaners after digging through Deutsche Bank.

      • Clinton running a child sex ring under a DC area pizzeria (and then, on Mars) was a conspiracy.

        No, the one on Mars is absolutey true.

  • by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:34PM (#55824339)

    Sounds like in a roundabout way they're describing metacognition, or critical thinking. The latter can find the flaws in a conspiracy theory.
    I think what happens is that the more you understand how the news media is made of flawed individuals who get it wrong sometimes, the less you take 'the news' as gospel handed down from upon high by the omniscient.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:37PM (#55824351)
    It must be true, just ask any Democrat.
    • Fusion GPS, and what they provided was the basis by which the FBI went after Trump. Golden fucking showers!! Yeah, it's all bullshit. And yes, absolutely there is a "Deep State".

      Trumps biggest mistake was the moment he mentioned "draining the swap". For one, it's an ocean and just as deep. Secondly, he's an outsider. If he manages to pull out of this, he's a messenger from God almighty himself!

    • by Xyrus ( 755017 )

      Or any federal grand jury issuing indictments against high ranking members of the Trump campaign.

  • Once you realise that everything makes sense.
  • Journalist.
  • by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:48PM (#55824451)

    People who have actually run a business (or at least been involved in the higher-level management of one) are a lot less likely to believe that typical corporations make money hand over fist for doing next to nothing, are deliberately looking for ways to screw over their customers, and so on.

    • by vix86 ( 592763 )

      deliberately looking for ways to screw over their customers

      Considering how many crazy cases we've seen over the years; it's hard to believe anyone wouldn't think a lot of multinational companies are doing this.

      Just some examples off the top of my head. General planned obsolescence, Verizion getting caught nickel and diming people in lots of weird hidden fees, ISPs doing all kinds of throttling and misrepresenting speeds, Apple recently admitting they slow phones, computer breaking DRM, and probably some more that I just can't think of. This isn't a "capitalism cons

      • You're just proving my point. "Stuff I the customer don't like and I think looks bad" need not remotely be driven by a company deliberately trying to do bad by its customers, and the closer you are to the actual tough decisions that companies have to make on a day to day basis, the closer you are to understanding that.

        • Nearly any decision made by a sane person can be justified reasonably, from their point of view, with enough context, but very few of those decisions and very little of that context makes it to the consumer (for various reasons). I tend to take the stance that any sufficiently large organisation cannot communicate internally effectively enough to create a unified understanding of the challenges their customers face and how to solve them; this lack of unified understanding seems to lead to bold moves aimed a

    • less likely to believe that typical corporations [...] are deliberately looking for ways to screw over their customers,

      Typical corporations? No. Sony? they relish the opportunity.

  • by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:51PM (#55824467) Journal

    ...the famed "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" in 1998?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

  • Conspiracy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kqc7011 ( 525426 ) on Thursday December 28, 2017 @04:53PM (#55824477)
    JournoList. Now without the autocorrect for journalist.
  • Is this

    " My [disgust] for modern journalism is huge. [Almost] everything they do are hit pieces or playing defense for the side with money.ï "

    Another one I liked was a Cold War era Russian remarking cynically "We know how to read Pravda. Do you know how to read the New York Times?". I.e. Pravda was a pack of lies but once you knew how to dissect it you could get some useful information. The US is effectively two one party states superimposed on each other. The Democrat media says only positive things a

  • "a very simple solution helps limit the appeal of conspiracy theories: news media literacy. "

    Literacy.Period! would already help.

  • If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem

    Most adults are not ignorant due to a lack of ability - the amount of intelligence needed to read a birth certificate is minimal - even less than the amount needed to send a tweet.

    The reason most adults are ignorant is because they want to be. They prefer it. Being uninformed makes life a lot easier. There are no weighty considerations to make - just vote for the candidate with the nicest hair, or the tallest, or the best ..... body.

    And the same applies to most other choices. Grab the pizza with the br

    • If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem

      Most adults are not ignorant due to a lack of ability - the amount of intelligence needed to read a birth certificate is minimal - even less than the amount needed to send a tweet.

      The reason most adults are ignorant is because they want to be. They prefer it. Being uninformed makes life a lot easier. There are no weighty considerations to make - just vote for the candidate with the nicest hair, or the tallest, or the best ..... body.

      Actually, it's the dopamine rush - repeated studies have been conducted which strongly indicate that the human brain reacts the same way to defending a strongly held belief as it does when the body snorts a big fat line of cocaine.

      So, really, the reason most adults prefer to stay in their personal belief bubbles isn't comfort, it's because they're getting high off it.

  • It is not that some do not believe that Obama was born in the USA. Rather, for purely existential reasons, they decided that a man like Obama couldn't possibly be the president of the USA. Not without forcing them to change their perception of life on this planet in ways that they could not countenance. Therefore, Obama had to be a foreigner. Had to. No amount of evidence, argumentation or proof will convince them otherwise. Ever.
  • Whether you're talking about swinging left or swinging right it's very difficult for people to believe their news sources when they have proven over and over again to be partisan hacks. As an example, while there was looting and rioting in St Louis earlier this year to the point that the national guard was deployed for several days to keep the peace it never made the front page of cnn.com because they were too laser focused on destroying Trump by making front page news out of every single tweet that he wrot
    • There is a difference between lies and poor focus. You want lies, you can watch Fox. You want poor focus, you can watch CNN.

      I may not trust CNN to cover all the news, but I generally trust them to cover it honestly. And yes, that includes cleaning house when they find they haven't covered something honestly.

      Mostly, though, you need to occasionally have a look at what your enemies and allies are reporting about your issues; sometimes the domestic sources have been standing in the local shit for so long t

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