Day 54: Are conservative outlets more likely to spread misinformation?

In a previous post I discussed the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. Turns out there are a number of falsities floating around, which for some are viewed as a harmless form of entertainment, but when taken literally can pose a serious threat. False information has increased racist attitudes toward China, a lack of caution about the virus, and encouraged distrust of medical professionals and the scientific community. The most common conspiracy theories according to the Cornell Alliance for Science include:

  1. 5G networks are responsible for the spread of the virus despite the lack of evidence that viruses can spread through electromagnetism.
  2. Bill Gates is involved and profiting from the pandemic. Apparently, since he predicted another pandemic would arise, false narratives have emerged from anti-vaxxers and other right-wing groups.
  3. The virus escaped from a Chinese lab in Wuhan.
  4. The virus is a bio-weapon. This conspiracy has been debunked by research that shows genetic sequencing, but still nearly 3 out of 10 Americans believe it.
  5. The U.S. military imported the virus into China (a similar conspiracy but reversed to shift the blame on the U.S.)
  6. GMOs are at fault. Genetically modified crops have been blamed for many things and are once again becoming a scapegoat in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  7. Some believe the virus doesn’t even exist, but is simply a plot by Democrats or other elites to sway political power. Similarly, many continue to believe the virus is no worse than the flu despite medical professionals insisting both of these statements are completely untrue.
  8. Big Pharma is promoting the virus in order to sell vaccines and other remedies.
  9. The pandemic is a direct attack on President Trump and the Republican party to undermine their legitimacy and put Democrats in power.
  10. The death rates are being inflated and lied about to create a sense of urgency.

What do all of these conspiracy theories have in common? two things: They can be debunked with research and scientific evidence. They are all promoted by right-wing, anti-science outlets including InfoWars, QAnon, Epoch Times, The Washington Examiner, Fox News, and others. This interesting, though not surprising trend, is summed up nicely in a report conducted by Medical News Today:

“People in the U.S. who learned about COVID-19 from conservative outlets, social media, and online news aggregators are more often misinformed about the disease…”

I’ve known for awhile that news outlets like Fox and InfoWars frequently spout misinformation for political agendas, so this isn’t surprising in the least, but what should be done about it? As an individual, I can responsibly glean news sources and analyze them for inaccuracies and bias. (My personal favorites are NPR and BBC). But can these sources be held accountable for the spread of misinformation that could pose a threat to the general public?   Already Fox news is getting ready to face a lawsuit for broadcasting inaccuracies regarding Covid-19. In this report by Forbes, Fox repeatedly undermined the pandemic and called the virus a hoax in March and April. At a time when Americans could’ve been adequately preparing for the pandemic, many believed the commentary and did little to stop the spread. The U.S. now tops every country for the most confirmed cases. Fox is now being sued by the Washington League for Increased Transparency and Ethics for their handling of the crisis.

Should we start taking legal action against those who spread false information? 

 

There are problems with trying to hold fake news aggregators accountable. For starters, trying to silence people and organizations is potentially a violation of their First Amendment Rights. Also, attempting to stop these platforms could have the opposite effect and further fuel their audiences. If the fake news cannot be stopped, can we at least protect the people we love from being fooled by them? What do you say to a person who believes an inaccurate news source is their only beacon of truth? I’ve found plenty of guides online giving advice about how to protect ourselves from fake news, but nothing that helps us convince loved ones that the garbage they’re consuming is potentially harmful. We can’t control what others choose to believe, but can we hold these sites accountable? The Fairness Doctrine of 1949 aimed to do this, but has since been revoked.

Why is the Fairness Doctrine no longer in effect? According to this article written by The Washington Post the Fairness Doctrine required stations to allow opposing views on issues to encourage a spectrum of opinions and allow for accountability on controversial topics. However, this doctrine was frequently challenged on the grounds of First Amendment violations and was ultimately revoked in 1987. This resulted in an explosion of conservative talk shows in the 80s and 90s. Does this mean only conservative sites are biased? Of course not. There is just as much garbage being spouted from the left. Fake news, bias, and misinformation is nothing new. It’s happening on both sides, but when it comes to putting the public at harm in the wake of this pandemic, conservative sites are continuing to undermine the dangers, encourage distrust of experts, and politicize the issue.

I’m at a loss as to how to handle the situation. Trying to control these outlets is impossible. Trying to convince people that they’re being fed lies is impossible. All I can do is analyze where I get my news from and try to keep others informed accordingly. Fortunately, there are several sites that help to do this, and most of them are in agreement about outlets that are right or left leaning. Where do you get your news from and how biased is it according to these charts?

https://guides.lib.umich.edu/c.php?g=637508&p=4462444

https://www.allsides.com/media-bias/media-bias-chart

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/how-biased-is-your-news-source-you-probably-wont-agree-with-this-chart-2018-02-28

AllSidesMediaBiasChart_Version1.1_11.18.19

I can protect myself, but what do I do about the people I love who continue to consume and believe lies? Trying to convince them otherwise has been largely ineffective. I look forward to a day when the public starts trusting experts again and politically-fueled sites that incite aggression and mistrust are a thing of the past. Sadly, I doubt this will happen in my lifetime. What do you do when a person you love is choosing to believe conspiracies instead of science? Have you ever convinced anyone to switch their source of information? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

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