COMMENTARY

On Media & Politics (or is that Redundant?)

Jaci Clement CEO & Executive Director, Fair Media Council

Jaci Clement

photo by Bob Giglione

While waiting for the next phase of life to reopen, here’s something to ponder: Why do conservatives fall for fake news more often than liberals do?

That’s part of the findings of a new study coming out of the University of Navarra’s IESE Business School, where 444 individuals were presented with 40 headlines, each of which included a picture and a subheading — in short, basically what you see of a news article when you’re on Facebook or Twitter — and quizzed on which were true or false. Of the 40 news items, 20 were right-leaning while the other 20 went in the other direction. Drill down one more level: Within each set of 20, 10 were real news stories, and 10 were fake. Respondents also provided one key piece of personal information, which was to choose conservative or liberal in their own political belief system. 

Believe What You Want

A key takeaway: Confirmation bias is alive and well in America. That is to say, the study found people tend to believe any news that aligns with their own political beliefs. Whether or not the news is true? Doesn’t matter.

Of course, this isn’t the first study to tell us confirmation bias exists, but it does throw more weight behind a concept that seems to be eating away at the fabric of America. 

The ultimate key takeaway here?  Unlike other surveys, the IESE study lands on new ground with the finding that “conservatives and liberals are different in their abilities to discern false from true news.”

Might that be because liberals are more open-minded? Possibly, at least according to the 2018 study in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. Yet another 2018 study finds a lack of reasoning and hence, the susceptibility toward falling for fake news may simply have more to do with simply being lazy than it does with bias. Perhaps that also explains why fake news travels faster than real news. Researchers at MIT found fake news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than real news stories and to spread at a rate of six times faster. (And that was after they threw the bots out of the study.)

Here’s the Thing

What is clear from all of the research is how vastly out of sync America is with its ability to educate the public on how to handle the technology it amuses itself with for far too much of the day, each and every day. The implications reach far beyond the political spectrum, straight into the heart of our daily lives, businesses, thoughts, and relationships.

In a time when everything is being recreated to accommodate the new normal, we can’t afford to overlook the power of media and technology. It has the ability to put our recovery on fast forward. Or on hold. That’s something all the studies agree on.

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