Fake news and online misinformation were the key themes of BuzzFeed Canada's founding editor Craig Silverman's talk on Tuesday night at Somerville House.
The event was run by the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and many faculty members and students attended. For those unable to attend in person, the faculty live-streamed the event on their Facebook page.
During the lecture, Silverman dug deep into the different types of fake news, the history of it and how to fight it.
“I personally define it [fake news] as completely fake stuff created by people knowing it’s fake, doing it for an economic motive,” he explained.
Throughout the lecture, Silverman went in-depth about why he thinks people fall for fake news. He explained how people share news stories that they hope are true on social media websites. These fake stories help reinforce their predisposed beliefs and result in the spread of misinformation. He also noted that people work hard to find evidence that supports what they already believe.
Silverman said that the mass spread of fake new stories occur as a result of social media algorithms. For instance, Facebook’s algorithm learns what your beliefs are and constructs your newsfeed based on them. It will show you news that matches your beliefs — whether it’s real or not.
“The more that you consume that kind of content, the more the Facebook algorithm will see that’s what you want and will feed you more of that,” he said.
In addition, Silverman explained how fake news can increase political polarization by partisan sources spreading false stories that work to hurt opposing sides of the political spectrum. The result is that this kind of fake news makes both sides hate each other and ultimately leads to a more adversarial political climate.
He gave an example of how a left-leaning site came out with a story on how the FBI director James Comey put a Trump sign on his front lawn just days before the election. This story ended up being completely untrue as Comey wasn’t even living there at the time and couldn’t have put it there.
Fourth-year BMOS student, Franny Champion, was surprised at how extensive the talk on fake news was.
“He brought up a lot of things that I haven’t thought of before ... He went a lot more into the history of it and where it comes from and why it happens,” she said.
Near the end of his talk, Silverman offered some tips on how to deal with the spread of fake news. He explained that the best way to get people to let go of their prior beliefs is to get sources or figures that they identify with to explain the truth to them.
Fourth-year MIT student, Megan Harvey, who admires Buzzfeed’s Canadian content, thought Silverman’s lecture was more useful compared to her usual MIT classes, which merely address the issue of fake news.
“I thought that his talk was really interesting because he actually gave us solutions to the problem,” she said.
Silverman ultimately cautioned those in attendance to think twice about sharing news online.