Bots, fake news & the echo chamber

To understand the role of bots, you have to understand that the websites and apps are businesses. People want you on their sites and social media pages to make money. They want to be able to influence your behavior. This is why advertisements are all over most sites (but not ours!). Advertisers pay money to post their products hoping that you will see it and buy it. 

Bots are robots that are programmed to pretend to be humans. Because of their capacity to do things quickly and automatically they are used to post opinions about different sites, people, products hoping that others will believe the posts to be real and to then be influenced by the post. 

For instance, let’s say a company called “Orange Heels” makes a pair of sneakers that emit a smell like bananas when you run. You may hear that and think Wow, that’s a really dumb idea. But then you start reading reviews that say, “Hottest sneakers on the market! The banana smell is awesome!”  “Never run without smelling bananas again! I thought this was a dumb idea but the smell made me run faster than ever!!!” “LOVE these. Totally the newest phenomenon in running!” You may start to change you mind and think, Hmmm, maybe I should try them.  And that’s exactly what Orange Heels wants you to think. That’s why they used those bots to post those fake opinions. 

Now buying a pair of sneakers because bots gave you false information may not seem great, but you may think to yourself But there’s no huge harm. It’s just a pair of sneakers.  But bots don’t just post things about products that are false, they are also used to post false opinions about people and events. if you have heard the term “fake news” this is something that bots help to spread—misinformation about what is happening in the world.

Fake news is a real increasingly growing problem in this country and around the world. Because people can post pretty much whatever they want, people can post things that aren’t true. And they can use bots to help them spread ideas and information that isn’t helpful or true.  

One way that this happens so easily is through a concept known as “the echo chamber.” The echo chamber is what happens when you increasingly friend people who are just like you and choose your news sites based on your beliefs and preferences. Makes sense—you don’t generally friend people you don’t like and you don’t listen to news sites that don’t share your beliefs. BUT, what happens is that you don’t get differing opinions. All you hear are opinions that re just like yours. Welcome to the echo chamber: whatever you believe is echoed by everyone with whom you have surrounded yourself. Which means, you really start to believe your position is shared by most people (when it’s just shared by people like you) and you are in danger of not hearing or understanding counter arguments. Hearing counter arguments is critical to having an informed opinion and to finding solutions. If you don’t know what other people believe, you can’t work towards finding solutions and compromises that address all needs. 

One way to avoid this is by purposefully following agencies that don’t align with your beliefs. This doesn’t mean that you need to support neo-nazi groups, we aren’t suggesting that! But making an effort to hear why some people feel climate change is a hoax and and why others feel it is the biggest crisis we now face, can only help to bring about reasoned conversation, no matter on what side of the debate you fall. Balanced information is essential as is balancing your screen time….

Post Question:

How do you make sure you aren’t paying attention to false news?

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