The Role Of Confirmation Bias In Spreading Misinformation
from the it's-everywhere dept
We recently wrote about the need to start thinking differently about mis- and disinformation, as the discussions on it cover a bunch of different — often unrelated — concepts. And lumping them together creates problems (as it did with the term “fake news.”) Last week (and over the weekend) a good example showed how this plays out in practice.
Rolling Stone put up a story with the extremely provocative title Gunshot Victims Left Waiting as Horse Dewormer Overdoses Overwhelm Oklahoma Hospitals, Doctor Says. As people discovered later, that “Doctor Says” hidden at the end of the headline ended up being the load bearing pillar on which the rest of the story stood. And that pillar turned out to be made of fluff and nonsense, as the hospital is now running a massive popup on the front page of its website saying the story is bullshit:
If you’re unable to see the image, it says:
Message from the administration of Northeastern Health System – Sequoyah:
Although Dr. Jason McElyea is not an employee of NHS Sequoyah, he is affiliated with a medical staffing group that provides coverage for our emergency room.
With that said, Dr. McElyea has not worked at our Sallisaw location in over 2 months.
NHS Sequoyah has not treated any patients due to complications related to taking ivermectin. This includes not treating any patients for ivermectin overdose.
All patients who have visited our emergency room have received medical attention as appropriate. Our hospital has not had to turn away any patients seeking emergency care.
We want to reassure our community that our staff is working hard to provide quality healthcare to all patients. We appreciate the opportunity to clarify this issue and as always, we value our community?s support.
The Rolling Stone report was based on an earlier report from local TV station KFOR making these claims. But it seems that no one at Rolling Stone called the hospital to check. And then the story got picked up, almost verbatim, a ton of other places. The Guardian had a story. The BBC. So did the Hill (that that one has since been deleted).
And, of course, the fact that so many publications ran with this story contributed to the standard narrative from those who dislike and distrust the mainstream media to argue that they are regular perpetrators of “fake news” or “disinformation.” Of course, as Eva Galperin correctly notes, absolutely everyone is susceptible to believing and amplifying stories that confirm our biases.
Every one of us is vulnerable to the tendency to amplify stories that shore up our pre-existing beliefs without scrutinizing those stories too closely. https://t.co/VkhpgC8L4X
— Eva (@evacide) September 5, 2021
The real question, of course, is how these kinds of things are dealt with — and what sort of corrective process there is. This is something that was discussed in the excellent book Network Propaganda, which tries to distinguish how misleading information flows through society — and whether organizations are willing to correct mistakes and admit to errors. Or, if they continue to stand by them. That’s the difference between an honest mistake — which absolutely everyone is susceptible to falling for — and those who specialize in bad faith presentation of misleading propaganda.
However, as we’ve discussed before, when you conflate a mistake with the deliberate bad faith pushing of false information, then that only serves to give more ammunition to those who wish to not just discredit all content from certain publications, but to then look to minimize complaints against “news” organizations that specialize and focus on bad faith propaganda, by simply claiming it’s no different than what the mainstream media does in presenting “disinformation.”
But there is a major difference. A mistake is bad, and everyone who fell for this story looks silly for doing so. But without a clear pattern of deliberately pushing misleading or out of context information, it suggests a mere error, as opposed to deliberate bad faith activity. The same cannot be said for all “news” organizations.