Fake News – updated


In February we talked about Fake News, False News, TRUTH, and truth at the downtown library. Here is an outline of stuff and some links.

Definitions of “Fake News”:


The BBC defines fake news as false information deliberately circulated by hoax news sites to misinform, usually for political or commercial purposes… It is worth differentiating fake news from false news, a term sometimes used interchangeably by some politicians to dispute news reports with which they do not agree or which they dislike. Guardian

There has been much commentary about defining the phenomenon of fake news, with some commentators blurring the lines between completely false stories, farmed news and more difficult cases such as heavily spun or partially inaccurate news…

The Guardian readers’ editor has proposed the following draft definition – “’fake news’ means fictions deliberately fabricated and presented as non-fiction with intent to mislead recipients into treating fiction as fact or into doubting verifiable fact.”

If, as is increasingly happening, the term fake news becomes synonymous with the notion of flawed journalism a serious prospect threatens: the spread of doubt about whether truth itself can be approximated, the spread of doubt about whether actual events are fake.


The democratisation of information online – which has caused many to describe this as the Golden Age of Journalism – has also led to a situation where credible impartial news sources are placed on a par with hoax websites and hyperpartisan websites claiming opinion as fact.

In the past year – new websites have sprung up posting unverified and untrue information, which has been widely shared on social media.

It falls into several different types:

1)      Totally fake news sites – with completely false stories– e.g. “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump” – which received over 1,000,000 engagements on social media.

2)      Hyperpartisan sites that present comment as fact or use selective facts while ignoring other salient ones

3)      Sites which mix fact and fiction – without traditional editorial standards they publish some true stories and some fake stories which get widely shared. This may include misappropriation of content by third parties, which may distort the material to suit their political agendas

While the above encapsulates what ITN recognises as fake news the definition of the term is shifting and has now arguably been misappropriated to become a catch-all phrase for coverage you disagree with.

This term has been quite regularly applied by President Trump to mainstream media for articles that do adhere to journalistic standards and ethics – and which mainstream media would strongly contest is “proper” journalism. This sets a precedent for other organisations and governments to dismiss critical stories as fake.

Meanwhile, the Chinese government recently described reports of torture from a human rights activist as “fake news”. This demonstrates how the terms has become a method or strategy enabling those held to account not to engage with genuine news reports and instead dismissing media who question them by labelling their reports as “fake”.

The consistent misuse of the term fake news in turn dilutes and undermines the label when it is accurately applied to articles that publish falsehoods. It could be argued that a new term or label needs to be found – although this too risks misappropriation

Online course: https://iai.tv/iai-academy/courses/take/lectures?course=rhetoric-and-reality



Fight back! Sites to help in checking the veracity of memes, claims, etc.

Fake news2


3 thoughts on “Fake News – updated

  1. On topic from “The Splintered Mind”:
    Rationalization: Why Your Intelligence, Vigilance and Expertise Probably Don’t Protect You (with Jon Ellis)

    Posted: 21 Feb 2018 12:16 PM PST

    (with Jonathan E. Ellis; originally appeared at the Imperfect Cognitions blog)

    We’ve all been there. You’re arguing with someone – about politics, or a policy at work, or about whose turn it is to do the dishes – and they keep finding all kinds of self-serving justifications for their view. When one of their arguments is defeated, rather than rethinking their position they just leap to another argument, then maybe another. They’re rationalizing –coming up with convenient defenses for what they want to believe, rather than responding even-handedly to the points you’re making. You try to point it out, but they deny it, and dig in more.

    More formally, in recent work we have defined rationalization as what occurs when a person favors a particular view as a result of some factor (such as self-interest) that is of little justificatory epistemic relevance, and then engages in a biased search for and evaluation of justifications that would seem to support that favored view.

    You, of course, never rationalize in this way! Or, rather, it doesn’t usually feel like you do. Stepping back, you’ll probably admit you do it sometimes. But maybe less than average? After all, you’re a philosopher, a psychologist, an expert in reasoning – or at least someone who reads blog posts about philosophy, psychology, and reasoning. You’re especially committed to the promotion of critical thinking and fair-minded reasoning. You know about all sorts of common fallacies, and especially rationalization, and are on guard for them in your own thinking. Don’t these facts about you make you less susceptible to rationalization than people with less academic intelligence, vigilance, and expertise?

    We argue that no. You’re probably just as susceptible to post-hoc rationalization, maybe even more, than the rest of the population, though the ways it manifests in your reasoning may be different. Vigilance, academic intelligence, and disciplinary expertise are not overall protective against rationalization. In some cases, they might even enhance one’s tendency to rationalize, or make rationalizations more severe when they occur.

    While some biases are less prevalent among those who score high on standard measures of academic intelligence, others appear to be no less frequent or powerful. Stanovich, West and Toplak (2013), reviewing several studies, find that the degree of myside bias is largely independent of measures of intelligence and cognitive ability. Dan Kahan finds that on several measures people who use more “System 2” type explicit reasoning show higher rates of motivated cognition rather than lower rates (2011, 2013, Kahan et al 2011). Thinkers who are more knowledgeable have more facts to choose from when constructing a line of motivated reasoning (Taber and Lodge 2006; Braman 2009).

    Nor does disciplinary expertise appear to be protective. For instance, Schwitzgebel and Cushman (2012, 2015) presented moral dilemma scenarios to professional philosophers and comparison groups of non-philosophers, followed by the opportunity to endorse or reject various moral principles. Professional philosophers were just as prone to irrational order effects and framing effects as were the other groups, and were also at least as likely to “rationalize” their manipulated scenario judgments by appealing to principles post-hoc in a way that would render those manipulated judgments rational.

    Furthermore, since the mechanisms responsible for rationalization are largely non-conscious, vigilant introspection is not liable to reveal to the introspector that rationalization has occured. This may be one reason for the “bias blind spot”: People tend to regard themselves as less biased than others, sometimes even exhibiting more bias by objective measures the less biased they believe themselves to be (Pronin, Gilovich and Ross 2004; Uhlmann and Cohen 2005). Indeed, efforts to reduce bias and be vigilant can amplify bias. You examine your reasoning for bias, find no bias because of your bias blind spot, and then inflate your confidence that your reasoning is not biased: “I really am being completely objective and reasonable!” (as suggested in Erhlinger, Gilovich and Ross 2005). People with high estimates of their objectivity might also be less likely to take protective measures against bias (Scopeletti et al 2015).

    Partisan reasoning can be invisible to vigilant introspection for another reason: it need not occur in one fell swoop, at a sole moment or a particular inference. Rather, it can be the result of a series or network of “micro-instances” of motivated reasoning (Ellis, manuscript). Celebrated cases of motivated reasoning typically involve a person whose evidence clearly points to one thing (that it’s their turn, not yours, to do the dishes) but who believes the very opposite (that it’s your turn). But motives can have much subtler consequences.

    Many judgments admit of degrees, and motives can have impacts of small degree. They can affect the likelihood you assign to an outcome, or the confidence you place in a belief, or the reliability you attribute to a source of information, or the threshold for cognitive action (e.g., what would trigger your pursuit of an objection). They can affect these things in large or very small ways.

    Such micro-instances (you might call it motivated reasoning lite) can have significant amplificatory effects. This can happen over time, in a linear fashion. Or it can happen synchronically, spread over lots of assumptions, presuppositions, and dispositions. Or both. If introspection doesn’t reveal motivated reasoning that happens in one fell swoop, micro-instances are liable to be even more elusive.

    This is another reason for the sobering fact that well-meaning epistemic vigilance cannot be trusted to preempt or detect rationalization. Indeed, people who care most about reasoning, or who have a high “need for cognition”, or who attend to their cognitions most responsibly, may be the most impacted of all. Their learned ability to avoid the more obvious types of reasoning errors may naturally come with cognitive tools that enable more sophisticated, but still unnoticed, rationalization.


  2. Pingback: Philosophers’ Café | Episyllogism

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