Polarization in Action: Opposite Headlines on the Same Story - BCB #44
Also: After Nashville, do we blame the individual or the group? Can we pre-bunk Fake news?
Was drilling approved or was it blocked?
Two weeks ago the Biden administration approved new oil and gas drilling operations in Alaska's North Slope. This decision came a day after it blocked 16 million acres of arctic land from future drilling.
We previously explored how newsrooms are following their increasingly polarized audiences. And here we are:
The Guardian reported “Biden approves controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska” and raised concerns about Alaskan native communities and the negative impact on climate, wildlife, and food access. On the other hand, the Fox News article headlined “Biden indefinitely blocks millions of acres of land, water from future oil drilling” emphasized “aggressive actions blocking fossil fuel production in and off the coast of Alaska ahead of an expected announcement green-lighting other drilling.”
Each headline panders to its own polarized audience — but not in the sense of telling them what they want to hear. Instead, these headlines are optimized for outrage. (See also: headlines have become angrier.)
However, we’ve also said the media does not outright lie. Both articles acknowledge, in the text, that the Biden Administration blocked some drilling activities and approved others.
Do we blame the individual or the group?
In the aftermath of tragedies like the Nashville school shooting the age-old fight reignites: do we blame the individual or the group? The shooter is trans, and Red is now calling trans groups “radical.” Meanwhile, Blue is emphasizing individual actions: “Just as we cannot ask all white, cisgender men to answer for the crimes of Columbine or Charleston, we cannot go down the road of asking identity groups … to answer for this event.”
We’ve been here many times before. Sometimes it’s Blue dismissing the “lone wolf” narrative: “White-supremacist terror is rooted in a pack, a community.” On another day it’s Red blaming the collective, holding Muslims in general responsible for terrorist acts rather than individual extremists.
Or take the response to the Catholic Church's sexual abuse cases. Some held the Church itself accountable, with opinion pieces demanding the outside imposition of reforms. Others argued that it was absurd to blame every priest for the actions of a few. Sometimes we heard the the No True Scotsman argument: “No real Catholic would do such a thing.”
Whether we blame the individual or the group almost always depends more on our loyalties than on any serious attempt to determine whether group effects — like culture or hierarchy — are to blame for bad outcomes.
Does prebunking fake news work?
Inoculation theory suggests that attitudes and beliefs can be protected from false persuasion in the same way a body can be protected from a disease. One of the simplest forms of inoculation is “prebunking,” which works by teaching people to spot spin and falsehoods before they encounter them. This can be faster, cheaper and more effective than debunking.
The director of the Cambridge Social Decision-making lab, Professor Sander van der Linden, swears by prebunking. Using an app called “Bad News” he trained users to notice signs of less credible misinformation. This equips them with what he calls a “psychological vaccine against fake News.”
But subsequent research suggests that inoculation games are either ineffective or they have the effect of reducing the user’s trust in all kinds of news sources — not just fake news. By reanalyzing existing research on the topic, this work suggests that such interventions may not improve the ability to tell real from Fake news.
Across the studies, when comparable true and fake news items were used, Bad News and Go Viral! did not improve discrimination, but rather elicited more “false” responses to all news items (more conservative responding). These novel findings suggest that the current gamified inoculation interventions designed to improve fake news detection are not as effective as previously thought and may even be counterproductive.
This is a little like taking a “vaccine” for the flu and potentially ending up with measles. However, there may still be other pre-bunking approaches that work better.
Quote of the Week
I much, much prefer the term “social justice politics” to refer to the school of politics that is typically referred to as woke, out of a desire to be neutral in terminology. However: there is such a school of politics, it’s absurd that so many people pretend not to know what woke means, and the problem could be easily solved if people who support woke politics would adopt a name for others to use. No to woke, no to identity politics, no to political correctness, fine: PICK SOMETHING.