Solving the Problem of Fake News through Dialogues For Development: 2/2
Continuing from the last part in our event Fake News and Online Bullying where we understood that whilst fake news is a global phenomenon, their scope is seldom limited to digital eco-sphere alone. Studies by political scientist Adam Berinsky and psychologist Gordon Pennycook reveal that over time, people have an affinity towards forgetting how/where they found about a new story.
In the process of creating, responding, or propagating inflammatory pieces of fake news, trolling or mocking has found maximum occurrence. Put in simpler terms, a troll is someone who starts arguments or angers people by posting derogatory and off-topic messages, provokes an emotional response with their comments or dilutes a conversation away from its original and broader topic. Putting in context, some 60% of internet users witness someone being abused online. This figure is transported to a specific psychological state when 53% of users perceive trolls as internet users purposefully embarrassing someone. As per Pew Research Center’s survey on the subject, four in ten internet users are victims of online harassment.
Does trolling represent a family of fantastic mania to a selfie-loving class? Quoting Jung again, “The protean life of the psyche is a greater, if more inconvenient, truth than the rigid certainty of the one-eyed point of view.”
Trolling As The Will to Power
- A growing tendency to remain emotionally unempathetic
- A cold selfishness and pure instrumentality in endorsing ideas
- Able to detach oneself from conventional morality
- Capable of manipulating, or influencing adversely in
Loosely speaking, where do we find these social and personality traits the most? No, not on the internet at first. It’s an idea of social existence to follow Machiavellianism, a political system of domination derived from the writings of Niccolo Machiavelli, the historian diplomat, and writer of the Renaissance period.
In fact, these traits go a long way in predicting trustworthiness and reciprocity in a bargaining game. Using a reliable and bias-free Christie and Geis’s Machiavellianism scale (Mach-IV), research reveals that participants with the high machiavellian score are less trustworthy and will overwhelmingly deflect when it is their advantage to do so.
Our definition of trolling is also shaped by the media attention it gets. That is: throwing bait in the internet water in the form of deliberately provocative statements. That is intended to produce a broad range of anti-social online activities. We can agree by defining trolling as deceptive and disruptive online behavior which involves posting malicious comments to provoke/confront or upset people.
Trolling can have serious physical and psychological effects on victims including lowered self-esteem, depression, sleep disruptions. During Charlotte Dawson’s public battle with trolls and the depression, she said trolls and cyberbullying caused, one troll had told Dawson: “Go hang yourself”.
It is perhaps after Charlotte Dawson was trolled to death by suicide on February 22nd, 2014, we are exposed to the dark threats of trolling and abuse of social media capacities. In particular, studies find trolling to be a hybrid of Machiavellianism, the will to Power, Sadism, The will to Pain, and a complex Psychopathy.
Seeking the pleasure of humiliating and hurting others, sadism finds strong correlations with internet trolls, just as Machiavellian traits are essential to a successful troll. Together resembling features of a Dark triad of Personality, trolls score high in disrupting a peaceful assembly. Here’s a quick Dark triad of Personality test for you to get an idea of it.
In response to simple questions like what they enjoyed doing most when on online comment sites, offering five options:
- debating issues that are important to you
- chatting with others
- making new friends
- trolling others
- and “other”
the responses were:
But not all trolls show signs of psychopathy. Some may just be motivated by negative social rewards, like creating mayhem. For that matter, the rewards of troll are addictive and tempting to the expanding cosmos on the internet.
This could lead to a vicious cycle when creating mayhem motivates the internet warriors or trolls to keep going back for more.
In line with what our social or cultural consistency has been, predictive utility of trolling behavior shows that Men are more likely than women to engage in trolling. A higher level of trait psychopathy and sadism predicted trolling behavior. Trolls employ an empathic strategy of predicting and recognizing the emotional suffering of their victims while abstaining from the experience of these negative emotions. Thus trolling is an art of manipulating the environment of its cyber setting, including the victims’ emotions. Exploring the Taxonomy of Dark Personalities, Buckels, Trapnel and Paulhus conclude Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!
Online Violence and Organized Conflicts
The discussion so far has led us to see our limits in a non-reality based politics. Whether we are engaged in a pleasure-seeking activity like trolling or a value-reaffirming propaganda like fake news, things aren’t that simple. So how do we change that?
We have come to a position, nonetheless, to admit the high-soaring potentials of the internet and social media in terms of mobilizing people and tuning a change. Bearing uncanny resemblance to the 1979 Iranian revolution, Egypt has demonstrated strong public response through social media. Social media guru Andy Carvin provided impressive details on how Tunisian revolution was accelerated, if not totally initiated, by using the social media technology.
So there are easy ways to fix the mess, be it fake news and the troll-induced violence in social media. And the leap towards the easy ways is not that easy.
If a temporary loss of identity or enough anonymity on internet drives us to engage in the harmful social behavior, it could be that the sadism is not inherent in us, but rather a perverted feature of the medium. If a Reading man is jailed for filling the Facebook page of a 14-year-old girl (who had committed suicide) with insults, crass jokes and provocative content, it is not an instinctive human activity. By a process of online disinhibition, online media doesn’t allow us any feedback mechanism, unlike normal real world where we monitor other’s behavior and adapt ourselves to it accordingly.
Social media or any cyberspace is built on the premise of equality with no centralized control. So every user has the same technological advantage and shares the same constraints. In identifying our participation in making a difference, we should collectively aim towards reducing
- Dissociative Anonymity
When people have the opportunity to separate their actions from their identity and hence avoid real-life consequences, they feel less vulnerable about opening up, hence the urge to act is stronger. They can avoid the moral responsibility of their acts (for example, trolling or spreading the fake news) by not acknowledging it within the full context of who they really are. In fact, someone like me may even convince oneself that those behavior aren’t me at all. Hence the dissociation.
Although we might compare invisibility offered on the internet to the authoritative surveillance, a digital design of Foucault’s panopticon, on an individual level, invisibility serves as a trigger to do engage in malicious activities.
With no psychoanalyst behind the internet user, he feels further liberated to speak or discuss whatever he wants, without having to worry about the reaction and consequences of his actions.
Faster communication has taken the world into a TTYL culture (Talk to You Later). With more and more connecting technology, our tendency to interact in real time has shrunk to an all-time low.
This time lag creates misinterpretation and out of context distractions during a conversation. Immediate real-time conversation will improve our behavior standards by allowing us to adapt to real-time feedback and can cut roads through a more honest, and ambient conversation.
- Solipsistic introjection
When we interact with a non-human interface like social media, we subvocalize as we read and project our voice into the other person’s message. That is, our biases come into play, and we feel as comfortable in expressing ourselves online as we are when talking to ourselves. And when left to ourselves, we are willing to say all sorts of things that we wouldn’t say to others in a social context.
- Dissociative Imagination
Magnify the effects of solipsistic introjection with the escapability of cyberspace, you have a cosmos of disinhibited users, each struggling to remain relevant and popular in the space. Most of the social media and news-institutions have a specific set of avatars, online persona and profit-driven agenda in this make-believe dimension.
Criminologists like Emily Finch argue that some people see their online life as a game with rules and norms that don’t apply in everyday living. That also implies that they believe their online actions are nullified and their moral counters are reset every time they shut down their system. In a cyberspace dominated by loud market interests and consumer attraction agenda, the separation of the online and real world needs to be questioned.
- The Inhibiting Self
For we have crossed history with many movements of liberation, there is fallacious thinking that what is disinhibited is more real/true than the part of us that inhibits.
From psychological investigations to the international sense of history, we feel that if we could peel away suppression exploitation repression and other defense mechanisms, we will be liberated from falsitude and find the real self. This archaeological approach to intrapsychic existence is gaining more mass due to progressive movements in popular culture, be it academia, art or music. Social media trolls are no exception to the rule: they feel safe under anonymity to express themselves regardless of moral or ethical implications.
People who are shy in-person may thrive in cyberspace when the disinhibition effect allows them to express who they truly are inside. This is a wonderful opportunity for them. But why is my shyness a less true aspect of my behavior compared to other features of my personality, especially given the fact that my shyness is a prominent feature of my day-to-day living? And what makes me shy?
Iron Way of Countering Fake News
Likewise, social media is abused on an industrial scale as a tool to attract significant attention. Giving us an inflated sense of self-worth typical of narcissistic individuals is the dominant narrative in social media discourse not deliberately conditioning the whole cyberspace is also something not hard to guess. Newshour debates are watched for the misinterpretation and misunderstanding of a person’s perspective, and louder the noise is, more amplified is the effect of the fake news.
When we talk about the current economic troubles of journalism (or for that matter, every information-knowledge-engagement driven industry), we need to develop a real-news ecosystem as large as we can. By motivating people to identify and strengthen the real-news producing institutions, such as
- PolitiFact http://www.politifact.com
- Alt News https://www.altnews.in
- Snopes https://www.snopes.com
- FactCheck http://factcheck.org
we can go a long way in enhancing the smaller ecosystem for correcting fake news.
Dialogue for Development: What We Achieve when we Talk
Writing about the vividness of emotions, Tagore writes “Unscrutinized are the ways of heart”. While the Iranian Revolution was a power-upsetter and succeeded in providing identity and authenticity to its followers, they came at a price of reason and democracy. If we have to live in a world dominated by extremists that leave little room for freedom and tolerance, we think there is something serious damage done to the society.
The easy part of countering fake news and trolling is changing the individuals, locally. The hard part is to chalk out a plan that attacks the proliferation and influence of fake news. Many inclined to nationalist- ideologies don’t even notice the sign of our anti-government times that the solution we often want is that Facebook and Twitter etc. should be regulated. Simply put, we have relatively new private companies, who don’t claim to work in journalism, to be the major provider of journalism to the public. And the sharpest of activism hopes to address this terrifying crisis by asking the company’s billionaire CEO to fix it for us.
It’s autocratic and facile to think that government can either control the media for propaganda purposes or do nothing about it. In the wake of our times when election victories are the crops laid in social media campaigning, if people need something done about the fake news problem, they should be thinking about the government institutions they are governed by.