Elderly, conservatives shared more Facebook fakery in 2016
By SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writer
Wednesday, January 9
WASHINGTON (AP) — Sharing false information on Facebook is old.
People over 65 and ultra conservatives shared about seven times more fake information masquerading as news on the social media site than younger adults, moderates and super liberals during the 2016 election season, a new study finds.
The first major study to look at who is sharing links from debunked sites finds that not many people are doing it. On average only 8.5 percent of those studied — about 1 person out of 12 — shared false information during the 2016 campaign, according to the study in Wednesday’s journal Science Advances . But those doing it tend to be older and more conservative.
“For something to be viral you’ve got to know who shares it,” said study co-author Jonathan Nagler, a politics professor and co-director of the Social Media and Political Participation Lab at New York University. “Wow, old people are much more likely than young people to do this.”
Facebook and other social media companies were caught off guard in 2016 when Russian agents exploited their platforms to meddle with the U.S. presidential election by spreading fake news, impersonating Americans and running targeted advertisements to try to sway votes. Since then, the companies have thrown millions of dollars and thousands of people into fighting false information.
Researchers at Princeton University and NYU in 2016 interviewed 2,711 people who used Facebook. Of those, nearly half agreed to share all their postings with the professors.
The researchers used three different lists of false information sites — one compiled by BuzzFeed and two others from academic research teams — and counted how often people shared from those sites. Then to double check, they looked at 897 specific articles that had been found false by fact checkers and saw how often those were spread.
All those lists showed similar trends.
When other demographic factors and overall posting tendencies are factored in, the average person older than 65 shared seven times more false information than those between 18 and 29. The seniors shared more than twice as many fake stories as people between 45 and 64 and more than three times that of people in the 30- to 44-year-old range, said lead study author Andrew Guess, a politics professor at Princeton.
The simplest theory for why older people share more false information is a lack of “digital literacy,” said study co-author Joshua Tucker, also co-director of the NYU social media political lab. Senior citizens may not tell truth from lies on social networks as easily as others, the researchers said.
Harvard public policy and communication professor Matthew Baum, who was not part of the study but praised it, said he thinks sharing false information is “less about beliefs in the facts of a story than about signaling one’s partisan identity.” That’s why efforts to correct fakery don’t really change attitudes and one reason why few people share false information, he said.
When other demographics and posting practices are factored in, people who called themselves very conservative shared the most false information, a bit more than those who identify themselves as conservative. The very conservatives shared misinformation 6.8 times more often than the very liberals and 6.7 times more than moderates. People who called themselves liberals essentially shared no fake stories, Guess said.
Nagler said he was not surprised that conservatives in 2016 shared more fake information, but he and his colleagues said that does not necessarily mean that conservatives are by nature more gullible when it comes to false stories. It could simply reflect that there was much more pro-Trump and anti-Clinton false information in circulation in 2016 that it drove the numbers for sharing, they said.
However, Baum said in an email that conservatives post more false information because they tend to be more extreme, with less ideological variation than their liberal counterparts and they take their lead from President Trump, who “advocates, supports, shares and produces fake news/misinformation on a regular basis.”
The researchers looked at differences in gender, race and income but could not find any statistically significant differences in sharing of false information.
After much criticism, Facebook made changes to fight false information, including de-emphasizing proven false stories in people’s feeds so others are less likely to see them. It seems to be working, Guess said. Facebook officials declined to comment.
“I think if we were to run this study again, we might not get the same results,” Guess said.
MIT’s Deb Roy, a former Twitter chief media scientist, said the problem is that the American news diet is “full of balkanized narratives” with people seeking information that they agree with and calling true news that they don’t agree with fake.
“What a mess,” Roy said.
AP Technology Writer Barbara Ortutay in New York contributed to this report. Follow Seth Borenstein on Twitter: borenbears . The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Who’s more compassionate, Republicans or Democrats?
January 10, 2019
Author: Meri T. Long, Lecturer, American Politics, University of Pittsburgh
Disclosure statement: Meri T. Long does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
It’s a common refrain of American voters: How can your party be so heartless?
Democrats want to know how Republicans can support President Trump’s policy of separating babies from refugee families. Republicans want to know how Democrats can sanction abortion. But does either party really care more about compassion?
In my research into the public’s support for a variety of government policies, I ask questions about how compassionate someone is, such as how concerned they are about others in need.
These questions are integral to understanding how people feel about who in America deserves government support.
Some people are more compassionate than others. But that doesn’t break simply along party lines.
I find that Democratic and Republican Party voters are similar, on average, busting up the cliché of bleeding heart liberals and uncaring conservatives.
And then there are Trump voters.
Beyond partisan stereotypes
Compassion is defined by many psychology researchers as concern for others in need and a desire to see others’ welfare improved.
The similarity in compassion among voters of both parties contrasts with other measures of personality and worldview that increasingly divide Republicans and Democrats, such as values about race and morality.
Republicans are not less compassionate than Democrats, but my research also shows that there is a stark divide between parties in how relevant an individual’s compassion is to his or her politics.
Public opinion surveys show that you can predict what kind of policies a more compassionate person would like, such as more government assistance for the poor or opposition to the death penalty.
But for most political issues, the conclusion for Republicans is that their compassion does not predict what policies they favor. Support for more government assistance to the poor or sick, or opinions about the death penalty, for example, are unrelated to how compassionate a Republican voter is.
In my work, I find that the primary policy area where compassion is consistently correlated to specific policies for conservatives is abortion, where more compassionate conservatives are more likely to say they are pro-life.
When Democratic voters say they are compassionate, you can predict their views on policies.
They’re more supportive of immigration, in favor of social services to the poor and opposed to capital punishment.
Yet, while Democrats may be more likely to vote with their heart, there isn’t evidence that they’re more compassionate than Republicans in their daily life.
When it comes to volunteering or donating money, for example, compassion works the same way for Republicans and Democrats: More compassionate voters of either party donate and volunteer more.
The real difference
My research suggests that voter attitudes about the role of compassion in politics are shaped not only by personal philosophy, but by party leaders.
Political speeches by Republican and Democratic leaders vary in the amount of compassionate language they use.
For instance, political leaders can draw attention to the needs of others in their campaign speeches and speeches on the House or Senate floor. They may talk about the need to care for certain people in need or implore people to “have a heart” for the plight of others. Often, leaders allude to the deserving nature of the recipients of government help, outlining how circumstances are beyond their control.
Democratic politicians use compassionate rhetoric much more often than their Republican counterparts and for many more groups in American society than Republican leaders do.
Do citizens respond to such rhetoric differently depending on what party they affiliate with?
When their leaders use compassionate political language, such as drawing attention to other people’s suffering and unmet needs as well as the worthiness of the groups in need, Republicans in experiments are actually moved to be more welcoming to immigrants and to support state help for the disabled.
This explains how Republican voters responded positively to Republican Sen. Robert Dole’s campaign for the rights of the disabled in 1989. It also explains the success of presidential candidate George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” in 2000, which one Washington Post columnist wrote “won George W. Bush the White House in 2000.”
It also suggests that it’s not necessarily the public, but the party leaders, who differ so significantly in how relevant they believe compassion should be to politics.
Trump supporters the exception
Despite political rhetoric that places them at opposite ends of the spectrum, Republican and Democratic voters appear to be similarly compassionate.
Democrats view compassion as a political value while Republicans will integrate compassion into their politics when their leaders make it part of an explicit message.
There is a caveat to this: I asked these survey questions about personal feelings of compassion in a 2016 online survey that also asked about choice of president.
The survey was conducted a few days after Republican presidential primary candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio had dropped out of the race, making Donald Trump the only viable Republican candidate for the nomination.
In their responses to the survey, a large percentage of Republican voters said they would rather vote for someone other than Trump, even though he was the unofficial nominee at that point.
The Republican voters who didn’t support Trump were similar to Democrats on the survey with respect to their answers about compassion. Their average scores on the compassion items were the same. This is in line with the other survey data showing that liberals and conservatives, and Republicans and Democrats, are largely similar in these personality measures of compassion.
But Trump supporters’ answers were not in line with these findings.
Instead, their average responses to the broad compassion questions were significantly lower. These answers showed that Trump supporters were lower in personal compassion.
While a lot of the Republican voters in the sample may well have gone on to support Trump in the general election, the survey respondents who were early adopters of candidate Trump might continue to be his most steadfast supporters today.
We know that public officials’ rhetoric can influence public opinion on political issues. This leads to another important question: Can political messages influence how much people value compassion more generally? Or even how compassionate people consider themselves to be?
The research indicates that appeals to compassion – if made by trusted leaders – should work for voters of both parties.
But it also indicates that if such messages are absent, compassion is less likely to be seen as important in politics and the positions people and parties take.
Hearing hate speech primes your brain for hateful actions
January 10, 2019
Inflammatory words can prime a mind.
Author: Arthur Glenberg, Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University
Disclosure statement: Arthur Glenberg owns shares in Moved by Reading, LLC which intends to market software to enhance reading comprehension. He has received funding from the National Science Foundation, the Institute of Education Sciences, the National Institutes of Health and the Office of Naval Research.
Partners: Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
A mark on a page, an online meme, a fleeting sound. How can these seemingly insignificant stimuli lead to acts as momentous as participation in a racist rally or the massacre of innocent worshippers? Psychologists, neuroscientists, linguists and philosophers are developing a new theory of language understanding that’s starting to provide answers.
Current research shows that humans understand language by activating sensory, motor and emotional systems in the brain. According to this new simulation theory, just reading words on a screen or listening to a podcast activates areas of the brain in ways similar to the activity generated by literally being in the situation the language describes. This process makes it all the more easy to turn words into actions.
As a cognitive psychologist, my own research has focused on developing simulation theory, testing it, and using it to create reading comprehension interventions for young children.
Simulations are step one
Traditionally, linguists have analyzed language as a set of words and rules that convey ideas. But how do ideas become actions?
Simulation theory tries to answer that question. In contrast, many traditional theories about language processing give action short shrift.
Simulation theory proposes that processing words depends on activity in people’s neural and behavioral systems of action, perception and emotion. The idea is that perceiving words drives your brain systems into states that are nearly identical to what would be evoked by directly experiencing what the words describe. When you read the sentence, your mind simulates what it would be like to actually live through the experience.
Consider the sentence “The lovers held hands while they walked along the moonlit tropical beach.” According to simulation theory, when you read these words, your brain’s motor system simulates the actions of walking; that is, the neural activity elicited by comprehending the words is similar to the neural activity generated by literal walking. Similarly, your brain’s perceptual systems simulate the sight, sounds and feel of the beach. And your emotional system simulates the feelings implied by the sentence.
So words themselves are enough to trigger simulations in motor, perceptual and emotional neural systems. Your brain creates a sense of being there: The motor system is primed for action and the emotional system motivates those actions.
Then, one can act on the simulation much as he’d act in the real situation. For example, language associating an ethnic group with “bad hombres” could invoke an emotional simulation upon seeing members of the group. If that emotional reaction is strong enough, it may in turn motivate action – maybe making a derogatory remark or physically lashing out.
Although simulation theory is still under scientific scrutiny, there have been many successful tests of its predictions. For example, using neuroimaging techniques that track blood flow in the brain, researchers found that listening to action words such as “lick,” “pick” and “kick” produces activity in areas of the brain’s motor cortex that are used to control the mouth, the hand and the leg, respectively. Hearing a sentence such as “The ranger saw an eagle in the sky” generates a mental image using the visual cortex. And using Botox to block activity in the muscles that furl the brow affects the emotional system and slows understanding of sentences conveying angry content. These examples demonstrate the connections between processing speech and motor, sensory and emotional systems.
Recently, my colleague psychologist Michael McBeath, our graduate student Christine S. P. Yu and I discovered yet another robust connection between language and the emotional system.
Consider pairs of single-syllable English words that differ only in whether the vowel sound is “eee” or “uh,” such as “gleam-glum” and “seek-suck.” Using all such pairs in English – there are about 90 of them – we asked people to judge which word in the pair was more positive. Participants selected the word with the “eee” sound two-thirds of the time. This is a remarkable percentage because if linguistic sounds and emotions were unrelated and people were picking at the rate of chance, only half of the “eee” words would have been judged as the more positive.
Just activating your smile muscles tilts your emotions toward the positive.
We propose that this relation arose because saying “eee” activates the same muscles and neural systems as used when smiling – or saying “cheese!” In fact, mechanically inducing a smile – as by holding a pencil in your teeth without using your lips – lightens your mood. Our new research shows that saying words that use the smile muscles can have a similar effect.
We tested this idea by having people chew gum while judging the words. Chewing gum blocks the systematic activation of the smile muscles. Sure enough, while chewing gum, the judged difference between the “eee” and “uh” words was only half as strong. We also demonstrated the same effects in China using pairs of Mandarin words containing the “eee” and “uh” sounds.
Practice through simulation makes actions easier
Of course, motivating someone to commit a hate crime requires much more than uttering “glum” or “suck.”
But consider that simulations become quicker with repetition. When one first hears a new word or concept, creating its simulation can be a mentally laborious process. A good communicator can help by using hand gestures to convey the motor simulation, pointing to objects or pictures to help create the perceptual simulation and using facial expressions and voice modulation to induce the emotional simulation.
It makes sense that the echo chamber of social media provides the practice needed to both speed and shape the simulation. The mental simulation of “caravan” can change from an emotionally neutral string of camels to an emotionally charged horde of drug dealers and rapists. And, through the repeated simulation that comes from repeatedly reading similar posts, the message becomes all the more believable, as each repetition produces another instance of almost being there to see it with your own eyes.
Psycholinguist Dan Slobin suggested that habitual ways of speaking lead to habitual ways of thinking about the world. The language that you hear gives you a vocabulary for discussing the world, and that vocabulary, by producing simulations, gives you habits of mind. Just as reading a scary book can make you afraid to go in the ocean because you simulate (exceedingly rare) shark attacks, encountering language about other groups of people (and their exceedingly rare criminal behavior) can lead to a skewed view of reality.
Practice need not always lead down an emotional rabbit hole, though, because alternative simulations and understandings can be created. A caravan can be simulated as families in distress who have the grit, energy and skills to start a new life and enrich new communities.
Because simulation creates a sense of being in a situation, it motivates the same actions as the situation itself. Simulating fear and anger literally makes you fearful and angry and promotes aggression. Simulating compassion and empathy literally makes you act kindly. We all have the obligation to think critically and to speak words that become humane actions.