Research: Will 'fake news' problem get worse?

Interviewees are divided about the future of "fake" news.
Interviewees are divided about the future of "fake" news.
Fake news has a long history in the U.S. And most of the time, you know it right off.

    Think of tabloids that appear to show world leaders shaking hands with aliens. Or the promises of “real pictures” of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. Or the scoop that tells you Elvis Presley (1935-1977) is still alive!
    But the motherload of fake news -- from absurd stories about the pope making political endorsements to false claims about political candidates -- is on the internet. And in a report published today, interviewees questioned by the Pew Research Center are split on whether the coming decade will see a reduction in false news online.
         The research, released on the center’s website, put this question to technologists, scholars, practitioners, strategic thinkers and others:
        “In the next 10 years, will trusted methods emerge to block false narratives and allow the most accurate information to prevail in the overall information ecosystem? Or will the quality and veracity of information online deteriorate due to the spread of unreliable, sometimes even dangerous, socially destabilizing ideas?”
         Out of the 1,116 who responded: 51 percent said the information environment will not improve, while 49 percent believe it will improve.
         While the respondents offered a wide range of opinions, “Those who do not think things will improve felt that humans mostly shape technology advances to their own, not fully noble purposes and that bad actors with bad motives will thwart the best efforts of technology innovators to remedy today’s problems,” the report said.
         Here is why they are pessimistic, according to the research:
  • The fake news ecosystem preys on some of our deepest human instincts.”  In this line of reasoning, “manipulative actors will use new digital tools to take advantage of humans’ inbred preference for comfort and convenience and their craving for the answers they find in reinforcing echo chambers.”
  • “Our brains are not wired to contend with the pace of technological change.”  They predicta future information landscape in which fake information crowds out reliable information.”

      But it is also true that 49 percent are more hopeful that the information environment will improve because:

  • Technology can help fix the problems. “Some predicted better methods will arise to create and promote trusted, fact-based news sources.”
  • It is human nature to come together and fix problems. In this line of reasoning, experts argue that humans have always responded to change – and they will do the same now.

      What do you think? Read the report on the Pew Research Center website: "The Future of Truth and Misinformation Online," by Janna Anderson, director, Imagining the Internet Center, Elon University, and Lee Rainie, director, internet, science and technology research at Pew Research Center, Oct. 19, 2017.

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