Yet Another Study Shows Mainstream Media Is A Key Vector In Spreading Misinformation

from the again-and-again-and-again dept

The common “accepted knowledge” these days among many is that the rise of disinformation and conspiracy theories must be driven by social media, and Facebook in particular (with Twitter and YouTube right behind). This theory has always seemed a bit bonkers, and we’ve pointed to multiple detailed, data-driven studies that showed that cable news was a much bigger driver of misinformation than social media. Specifically, it found that conspiracy theories and misinformation and the like didn’t actually “go viral” until after it appeared on cable news.

So, it’s good (but not at all surprising) to find yet another study pointing out the same thing. This one, first highlighted by MediaPost, involved a big survey exploring the spread of conspiracy theories — and found that the mainstream media is often the biggest vector, rather than social media.

Contrary to popular opinion, we found that while technology (and social media specifically) has a role to play in perpetuating CTs, our data suggests that this is not the only source of information about CTs, and often not the main one either. People are more likely to say they heard about some CTs from a ?mainstream? news source (such as TV or a broadsheet or tabloid newspaper) than they are from a social media channel. We therefore need to be careful about locating technology as the source of the problem and indeed as the sole focus for possible solutions

In fact, the study notes:

?Our findings suggest that this highly effective disinformation campaign, with potentially profound effects for both participation in, and the legitimacy of, the 2020 election, was an elite-driven, mass-media led process. Social media played only a secondary role.?

Again, none of this says that conspiracy theories aren’t spread on social media, because of course they are. But increasing evidence suggests they don’t really catch on until the mainstream media gets involved, with TV News being a key vector and newspapers — both “broadsheets” and “tabloids” — playing a role as well. And yet, almost no one wants to explore the differing role among these other sources, and many people are solely focused on social media — perhaps because it’s new, and it’s always easy to blame the “new” thing.

But it won’t get to the root of the problem, and actually can serve to mask the real problems.

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Cdaragorn (profile) says:

The "new" thing is often just the scapegoat for "old" problems

People usually want to blame the "new" thing on the logic that they didn’t see this problem before so it must be the fault of something that has changed.

This logic is certainly sound as a starting point but you have to take the time to dig in and actually prove that that’s the case. The other likely possibility is the one that most people don’t want to acknowledge can be true: that the problem has always been there and the "new" thing has just made it visible for the first time.

We don’t like to admit that we might have a problem. We don’t like to face the fact that we might need to change to help fix that problem. So we default to finding something else to blame for the symptoms that are so clearly visible we can’t ignore them anymore.

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Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re:

My understanding is that they’re following the New Media in order to get the ratings that they so desperately need. As the stories percolate online or on radio, it proves to be an incredibly popular and engaging topic, although with a small audience and little reach. So then a corporate news network runs a segment, public awareness explodes, and the media company attracts enough eyeballs to pay the rent.

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ECA (profile) says:


From the old black and white of newspapers, from local to national to International.
From the Movie theaters where we gathered, once in awhile and esp. to get News from the wars.
From TV, which has the ability to Change contrasts with a single adjustment.
News and entertainment have been abit controlled, if not by the owners and Whims of change. Then by corps who do the adverts and hide little things into them. Cravings and wants.
But small things and changes in the background. Like the telephone. The original phones were strange, as 1 person could pick it up and listen to OTHERS conversations. It was the party line, and for some it became Gossip. Someone always knew what was happening in your house.
Telephone was the fast way to spread information and talk to friends and compare what was said, and it adapted as it went threw the lines, eventually being forgotten. But TV, was new and it was popular as we could See the people and Judge by their faces If they were honest.
Edward R Murrow would be ashamed.

The internet is the New thing that lets us travel the world and ask questions, And maybe find that history is abit absent minded. We can write and compare notes said in school.
We can be bombarded by More adverts then have been seen if Any life before ours.
The internet, the place to find, truth, lies, debates, A holes, confused aberrations, fantasies, realities, the strange and mixed up realities that are Buried in real life. Hidden, as all of Life must be Perfect and things must never disturb it.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: What else can we call this?

Please tell me you got the joke.
Computed Tomography
CT scanners designed for patient’s safety and satisfaction with technology that meets your needs now and in the future.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Aren’t y’all the race that screams that showing/mentioning/whispering/writing about teen suicide causes teen suicide?

You breathlessly cover the conspiracy theories in the asinine both sides thinking, completely ignoring the harms that any coverage at all of some things causes huge harms in other settings in your world?

Now y’all are playing humans other favorite game of assigning the blame, to big tech of course, before looking if you had any culpability (which you will assume you didn’t because big tech did it).

On the one hand you were all terrified of turning the wackjob army against you by stopping an interview once Rudy got to the Panda Paratroopers being airdropped in to stuff our ballot boxes with bamboo ballots and the concept of saying prove it is a lost art.

Y’all decided keeping the eyes on you by covering every freaking stupid claim without injecting any tiny bit of logic that they’ve never offered proof, courts ran them out of town, and honestly this make no sense and we shouldn’t give you the airtime to repeat this bullshit.
Might be playing into the MSM is silencing us trope, but demanding facts supporting claims is like the bedrock of coverage of things, not just letting MTG go on and on about jewish space lasers in every show y’all offer every 20 minutes.

But yes, FB did it… not outlets willing to provide platforms for unchecked lies.

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Moby (profile) says:

Utterly Flawed

Classic example on using "facts" to sell a narrative.

First, the study clearly focused only on certain topics, which is not in any way unbiased. The bulk of the linked "study" covers the type of people who spread or believe in conspiracies instead of how they spread.

And when did we start counting tabloids as news orgs? This article was an answer in search of a problem. Very disappointed to see something so obviously biased here.


That One Guy (profile) says:

'Look over there, a scapegoat!'

And yet, almost no one wants to explore the differing role among these other sources, and many people are solely focused on social media — perhaps because it’s new, and it’s always easy to blame the "new" thing.

Newness is probably part of the problem but I imagine a bigger part is that it’s the older sources fueling the ‘blame social media’ hype due to the competition it poses.

When they were the only ones around if they said something then by and large that was all people had to go on.

If they wanted to spin something then who was there to challenge them?

If people wanted to know what was going on it was go to the ‘traditional’ news outlets or do without basically.

Now though people can fact-check statements in real time and never need to go to them at all to get their news and that poses an existential crisis for them so it’s no wonder they’d be all on board blaming social media for a problem that they’ve been and still are largely to blame for.

Vermont IP Lawyer (profile) says:

I have been looking for an excuse to comment ...

… on an article in today’s NYTimes that alleges (plausibly to me but others may disagree) that a pair of yound men, one in Alabama and one in Uruguay, are running a series of websites that give people information about how to commit suicide. Anyone who is about to reply to my post–please have a look at the article first.

There are clearly a large group of voices in the metaverse who are not fond of, and would prefer to limit, the rights of free speech granted by the 1st Amendment. Some of those voices would say that they were fine with the 1st Amendment and just wanted to limit Section 230. Many of the writers/posters on this forum (e.g., Ms. Gellis) have explained, articulately and persuasively, the problem with that approach and why Section 230 is needed to buttress the rights granted by the 1st Amendment. I certainly agree with those defenses of Section 230 so please to nto take this post otherwise.

Another point often made on this forum by defenders of 1st Amendment rights is that people regularly miunderstand, misquote and misuse the "shouting fire" words from Holmes in the 1919 Schenck decision. As we all know, that is no longer good law, having been replaced by the "imminent lawless action" test articulated in Brnadenberg and clarified in Hess.

This latest study reported by Mike emphasizes afurther point that, in very many cases, what is said online is merely repeatig what has been said in conventional media and that, therefore, the response of those who attack the internet or attack Sec. 230 is misguided. I can see many instances where that is correct but today’s NYTimes article is a challending counterexample.

The internet is allowing/facilitating some number of people–generally young people–suffering from mental health issues to kill themsleves. They are doing so using a suicidal technique I would not have know about before today and which most of these young people would not know about in the absence of the internet (as it would not otherwise be so widely broadcast as to reach this health-challenged audience). So, in this instance, this latest argument based on the internet just repeating what legacy media has already said does not work.

What does the Techdirt community think about that? One possible answer is to say, per the typical Sec. 230 debate, that anyone with a complaint should deal with the people publishing their advice about how to commit suicide. Another possible answer is to say that whether or not commit suicide is a personal choice that should not be subject to governmental or other regulation so everything is fine as is. A third possible answer is to say that there is no practcal way to sanction/regulate the suicide-facilitation speech of the speakers in question without doing major damage to the critically important rights granted by the 1st Amendment.

In the particular fact pattern of this article, the first of these choices fails. The second and third are possibilities and, I guess, I lean towards number 3 (which I am guessing will be the overwhelming preference of the Techdirt community).

I will be interested to hear what everyone else has to say about this.

Ninja says:

O wow, the traditional media outfits lying again! What a surprise! Second article in 1 week. With different focus. I keep saying we need to discuss regulating the media. At the very least distributing the ownership so not a single group of wealthy people dictate what is going to be written. For the ones that will inevitably throw the censorship argument don’t, I already 100% agree that this needs to be taken very seriously giving the govt no room to exert control over the media. We just need to ensure 0,1% control a big chunk of the "trusted" sources. And we know it’s not only a matter of producing alternative content on independent outfits.

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