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March 3, 2017, 10:13 a.m.
Audience & Social

People just don’t launch non-partisan news sites anymore: Updates from the fake-news world

“Trump really does polarize people’s views of reality.”

The growing stream of reporting on and data about fake news, misinformation, partisan content, and news literacy is hard to keep up with. This weekly roundup offers the highlights of what you might have missed.

Almost all the news sites launched in the last 20 years have a partisan angle. Axios mapped the launch dates of 89 digital outlets from 1993 to 2015 and found an explosion in the founding of right-leaning sites since 2010 that it argues can’t be fully explained by an increase in political polarization in the U.S. — it’s instead at least partially attributable to the rise of Google and Facebook; “Facebook, in particular, algorithmically favors content that appeals to user bias and interest.” Axios categorizes Politico as the only mainstream news site that’s launched since 2000. (It probably goes without saying at this point that one’s definition of “mainstream,” and for that matter of “news,” may vary — this chart, which looks at how the readers of these sites identify themselves, is helpful).

“The same profit motive that created and helped sustain ideological news sites led to the creation of fake news sites,” Axios notes. “As Google and Facebook figure out their response to being the conduit for all those ad dollars for fake news sites, it might change the business models for ideological sites as well.”

It’s easy (and profitable!) to change a super-conservative story into a super-liberal one. Liberal Society and Conservative 101 are two hyperpartisan sites and Facebook groups that, BuzzFeed found, are owned by the same company: American News LLC of Miami. Stories on the sites swapped out just a few words and embedded the same tweets. American News LLC also runs American News, publisher of the viral fake news story that Denzel Washington endorsed Donald Trump. The company now appears to be expanding into religious clickbait, registering the domains DevoutAmerica.com and EthicalAmerican.com.

“Trump really does polarize people’s views of reality.” Researchers at MIT found that Republicans were more likely to believe Trump’s false statements when they were attributed to Trump versus unattributed; Democrats were more likely to believe Trump’s false statements when they were unattributed than when they were attributed to Trump. “It wasn’t just the case that misinformation attributed to Trump was less likely to be rejected by Republicans,” Adam Berinsky, a professor of political science at MIT and one of the paper’s coauthors, told Science Daily. “The things Trump said that were true, if attributed to Trump, [made] Democrats less likely to believe [them]….Trump really does polarize people’s views of reality.” When the false statements were corrected, Trump supporters were no less likely to vote for him. “It just doesn’t have an effect on support for him,” Berinsky said. “It’s not that saying things that are incorrect is garnering support for him, but it’s not costing him support either.”

This is not just a Republican issue; the paper “contributes to mounting literature that all individuals — regardless of partisanship — are biased by their own worldview, rather than there being fundamental differences in cognition between people with differing political values,” the authors write. Also, “to test whether the present findings are generalizable beyond Donald Trump, this experiment should be replicated with a Democratic and a different Republican political figure.”

Facebook backs a “News Literacy Support Group” this weekend. A “working group of folks who all understand that this problem demands not just a redoubling the valuable work already being done, but also a batch of fresh, ambitious ideas on how to make news literacy scale,” assembles this weekend at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, headed up by Dan Gillmor and supported by Facebook; the goal, Facebook says, is to find “scaled solutions” to help people make “smart content decisions with the ultimate goal of helping to create informed communities across the news ecosystem, not just on Facebook.” I’ve asked if the program will be on the record or if there’s a hashtag to follow and will update this post if I hear back.

Jeff Jarvis, who is attending the event, is not a fan of the phrase “news literacy.” “Our first goal is not to make the public more news-literate but to make journalism more public-literate…I don’t like framing this as ‘literacy,’ for that can be a paternalistic, top-down, and judgmental way to look at the people we serve.”

And ICYMI on Nieman Lab: Here’s our roundup of MisInfoCon, which took place last weekend at the Nieman Foundation and MIT Media Lab. Among the ideas: a “filter” of fake news sites for advertisers.

Illustration from L.M. Glackens’ The Yellow Press (1910) via The Public Domain Review.

POSTED     March 3, 2017, 10:13 a.m.
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