No one can dispute the power that democratized publishing affords us. After all, anyone today can start a website and be heard by the world. And of course, WordPress has played a central role in all this.
But let’s face it, we have a problem on our hands. Over the past year now, misinformation on the internet seems to have reached a tipping point, not just in the United States, but all over the world. From the persistence of content designed to manipulate our emotions to the polarization of politics and the spread of radicalism, all of these issues can be attributed in some way to the ease with which anyone can find a voice on the internet today.
This is the accompaniment page to my now-ongoing project. In it, I describe the problems democratization can create and discuss potential solutions. To paraphrase a well-known saying, “The price of democratization is eternal vigilance.”
Here’s my talk from WordCamp US 2016, which served as the take-off point for this project:
The official video page on WordPress.tv can be found here.
Here are the citations from the talk and related readings, grouped by topic:
Emotions and Virality
- An analysis of viral content on the New York Times: Berger, Jonah; Milkman, Katherine L. (2011), “What Makes Online Content Go Viral?,” Journal of Marketing Research (summarized here).
- Massive stats on social sharing: BuzzSumo (2014), “Why Content Goes Viral: What Analyzing 100 Million Articles Taught Us.”
- The link between emotions and virality: Guerini, Marco; Staiano, Jacopo (2015), “Deep Feelings: A Massive Cross-Lingual Study on the Relation between Emotions and Virality,” The International World Wide Web Conference Committee (summarized here).
- How anger-inducing content manipulates our brain: “This Video Will Make You Angry” (2015).
- How fake news sites profit by spreading outrage (2016).
Shallow Browsing and the Brain
- A book on how the internet is changing our brain and behavior: Carr, Nicholas (2008), The Shallows (reviewed here).
- This study says it’s not all bad: Small, Gary W.; Moody, Teena D.; Siddarth, Prabha; Bookheimer, Susan Y. (2008), “Your Brain on Google: Patterns of Cerebral Activation during Internet Searching,” American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry (summarized here).
- Media multitasking has a mental price: Ophir, Eyal; Nass, Clifford; Wagner, Anthony D. (2009), “Cognitive control in media multitaskers,” PNAS (summarized here).
- The decline in deep reading on the internet: Rosenwald, Michael S. (2014), “Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say,” The Washington Post.
- Cognitive skills improve in kids in the absence of screentime: Uhls, Yalda T., Michikyan, Minas; Morris, Jordan; Garcia, Debra; Small, Gary W.; Zgourou, Eleni; Greenfield, Patricia M. (2014), “Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues,” Computers in Human Behavior (referenced here).
- How the internet has changed the way our brains process information: Loh, Kep-Keel; Kanai, Ryota (2015), “How Has the Internet Reshaped Human Cognition?,” Neuroscientist (referenced here).
- Frequent texting and social media may lead to “moral shallowness”: Annisette, Logan E.; Lafreniere, Kathryn D. (2016), “Social media, texting, and personality: A test of the shallowing hypothesis,” Personality and Individual Differences (summarized here).
- A few charts on people’s online reading habits: Manjoo, Farhad (2013), “You Won’t Finish This Article,” Slate.
- People are more likely to share a link than actually read it: Gabielkov, Maksym; Ramachandran, Arthi; Chaintreau, Augustin; Legout, Arnaud (2016), “Social Clicks: What and Who Gets Read on Twitter?,” ACM Sigmetrics (reviewed here).
- Proving a point:
- “Why Doesn’t America Read Anymore?” NPR (2014).
- “Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting,” The Science Post (2016).
Misinformation and Why We Believe
- The problem with anecdotes: Shermer, Michael (2008), “How Anecdotal Evidence Can Undermine Scientific Results,” Scientific American.
- How misinformation spreads online: Del Vicarioa, Michela; Bessib, Alessandro; Zolloa, Fabiana; Petronic, Fabio; Scala, Antonio; Caldarellia, Guido; Stanleye, H. Eugene; Quattrociocchia, Walter (2016), “The spreading of misinformation online,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (summarized here).
- The lingering effects that reading misinformation has on us: Ecker, Ullrich K. H.; Lewandowsky, Stephan; Chang, Ee Pin; Pillai, Rekha (2014), “The effects of subtle misinformation in news headlines,” Journal of Experimental Psychology (summarized here).
- The credibility problem on the internet and why we fall for fake news (2016): Sundar, S. Shyam (2016), “Why Do We Fall for Fake News?,” Live Science.
- A comprehensive review on why we fall prey to misinformation: Rapp, David N. (2016), “The Consequences of Reading Inaccurate Information,” Current Directions in Psychological Science (summarized here).
- When it comes to what we believe, who is sharing it matters more than what they’re sharing: Media Insight Project (2017), “‘Who Shared It?’: How Americans Decide What News to Trust on Social Media.”
The Backfire Effect
- Politics and the Backfire Effect: Nyhan, Brendan; Reifler, Jason (2010), “When Corrections Fail: The persistence of political misperceptions,” Political Behavior (summarized here).
- Using psychological strategies to correct misinformation: Lewandowsky, Stephan; Ecker, Ullrich; Seifert, Colleen; Schwarz, Norbert; Cook, John (2012), “Misinformation and its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing,” Psychological Science in the Public Interest (summarized here).
- Trying to correct death panel myths: Nyhan, Brendan; Reifler, Jason; Ubel, Peter A. (2013), “The hazards of correcting myths about health care reform,” Medical Care (summarized here).
- Vaccines and the Backfire Effect: Nyhan, Brendan; Reifler, Jason; Richey, Sean; Freed, Gary L. (2014), “Effective Messages in Vaccine Promotion: A Randomized Trial,” Pediatrics (summarized here).
- Why people “fly from facts”: Friesen, Justin; Campbell, Troy; Kay, Aaron (2015), “The psychological advantage of unfalsifiability: The appeal of untestable religious and political ideologies,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (summarized here).
- How to counter anti-vaccination beliefs: Horne, Zachary; Powell, Derek; Hummela, John E.; Holyoakb, Keith J. (2015), “Countering antivaccination attitudes,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (summarized here).
- An MRI study shows how our brains respond when our beliefs are challenged: Kaplan, Jonas T.; Gimbel; Sarah I.; Harris, Sam (2016), “Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence,” Science Reports (summarized here).
- A counterintuitive and seemingly paradoxical technique for changing minds: Hameiri, Boaz; Porat, Roni; Bar-Tal, Daniel; Bieler, Atara; Halperin, Eran (2014), “Paradoxical thinking as a new avenue of intervention to promote peace,” PNAS (reviewed here).
- Feinberg, Matthew; Willer, Robb (2015), “From Gulf to Bridge: When Do Moral Arguments Facilitate Political Influence?,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (summarized here).
- A study on Reddit’s ChangeMyView shows how minds can be changed: Tan, Chenhao; Niculae, Vlad; Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil, Cristian; Lee, Lillian (2016), “Winning Arguments: Interaction Dynamics and Persuasion Strategies in Good-faith Online Discussions,” The International World Wide Web Conference Committee (summarized here).
- You can’t just focus on the data. You have to tell a good story: Hillier, Ann; Kelly, Ryan P.;Klinger, Terrie (2016), “Narrative Style Influences Citation Frequency in Climate Change Science,” PLOS (summarized here).
- A lawyer and mediator discusses how to use “empathy conversations” to change minds: Baer, Mark B. (2017), “Protests and Force Don’t Change People’s Hearts and Minds,” Psychology Today.
- Using “psychological vaccines” to combat misinformation: Van der Linden, Sander; Leiserowitz, Anthony; Rosenthal, Seth; Maibach, Edward (2017), “Inoculating the Public against Misinformation about Climate Change,” Global Challenges (summarized here).
- When it comes to changing minds, peer pressure is more effective than financial rewards (2017): Gallani, Susanna, “Incentives, Peer Pressure, and Behavior Persistence,” Harvard Business School (summarized here).
Fighting Fake News
- The well-known fact-checking sites: Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org
- Real or Satire: a detailed list of reviewed sites (description)
- Melissa Zimdars’s list of fake news sites (description)
- B.S. Detector Chrome Extension (description)
- Media Bias Fact Check Chrome Extension (description)
- Hoaxy: A platform for tracking online misinformation (description)
- Sleeping Giants: fight fake news with your ad dollars (description)
- CNN Tips for Spotting Fake News
Tribalism and Polarization
- Eli Pariser’s famous — but now-somewhat outdated — TED talk on online filter bubbles (2011).
- A book on the evolution of tribalism, summarized here: Wilson, E.O. (2012), “Biologist E.O. Wilson on Why Humans, Like Ants, Need a Tribe,” Newsweek.
- Tribalism and politics: Shermer, Michael (2012), “Evolution Explains Why Politics Is So Tribal,” Scientific American.
- 5 Scientific Ways the Internet is Dividing Us — the original article I co-wrote that became the inspiration for this talk (2012).
- The Pew Research Center’s report on political polarization and media habits (2014).
- The internet drives political polarization: Lelkes, Yphtach; Sood, Gaurav; Iyengar, Shanto (2015), “The Hostile Audience: The Effect of Access to Broadband Internet on Partisan Affect,” American Journal of Political Science (summarized here).
- A book that talks about the rise of online extremism and discusses what we can do policy-wise: Stevens, David; O’Hara, Kieron (2015), The Devil’s Long Tail.
- Facebook responds to allegations of creating echo chambers by releasing a study of their own. “It’s your own fault,” they say (2015).
- The Wall Street Journal’s side-by-side comparison of what liberals and conservatives see on Facebook (2016).
- The onus isn’t all on Facebook, says this professor of communications (2016).
- Ironically, people who are more rational and scientifically minded end up being more partisan: Kahan, Dan (2016), “Is cultural cognition an instance of “bounded rationality”? A ten-yr debate,” The Cultural Cognition Project (summarized here).
- We’re all inclined to shield ourselves from opposing viewpoints: Frimer, Jeremy; Skitkab, Linda; Motyl, Matt (2017), “Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid exposure to one another’s opinions,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (reviewed here).
- The polarizing effects of customizability technology (i.e., algorithms by Google or Facebook that allow us to customize our news feeds): Dylko, Ivan; Dolgov, Igor; Hoffman, William; Eckhart, Nicholas; Molina, Maria; Aaziz, Omar (2017), “The dark side of technology: An experimental investigation of the influence of customizability technology on online political selective exposure,” Computers in Human Behavior (summarized here).
- The biological basis of anti-immigrant bias: Aaroe, Lene; Peterson, Michael Bang; Arceneaux, Kevin (2017), “The Behavioral Immune System Shapes Political Intuitions: Why and How Individual Differences in Disgust Sensitivity Underlie Opposition to Immigration,” American Political Science Review (summarized here).
- On the contrary, this study shows that the internet is not contributing to polarization: Boxell, Levi; Gentzkow, Matthew; Shapiro, Jesse M. (2017), “Is the internet causing political polarization? Evidence from demographics,” Brown University (summarized here).
- Yale Law School’s ongoing project studying how cultural values shape one’s political beliefs: Cultural Cognition Project.
Here are some other issues we may encounter on a democratized internet. These have been addressed more fully elsewhere, so I chose to skip them for my presentation:
The Vocal Minority
- The Internet 1% Rule: the voices we hear on the internet represent only 1% of the total users of the internet.
- The 1% rule as noted in the WordPress philosophy.
- A peer-reviewed study on the 1% rule: Van Mierlo, Trevor (2014), “The 1% Rule in Four Digital Health Social Networks: An Observational Study,” Journal of Medical Internet Research.
- 538’s poll on why internet commenters do what they do (2016).
Harassment and Internet Trolls
- How the internet turns us into assholes: Suler, John (2004), “The online disinhibition effect,” Cyberpsychology & Behavior (summarized here).
- Yep, this pretty much sums it up (2004): The Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.
- Data on anonymity and online comments: Santana, Arthur D. (2013), “Virtuous or Vitriolic: The effect of anonymity on civility in online newspaper reader comment boards,” Journalism Practice (summarized here).
- Jon Ronson’s TED talk on how social media can be used to destroy lives, and an accompanying interview (2015).
- How the internet has made bullying both harder to escape and harder to identify (2015).
- How we can combat internet shaming and cyberbullying (2015).
- The latest stats on online harassment and people’s willingness to be active online: Lenhart, Amanda; Ybarra, Michele; Zickuhr, Kathryn; Price-Feeney, Myeshia (2016), “Online Harassment, Digital Abuse, and Cyberstalking in America,” Data & Society Research Institute and the Center for Innovative Public Health Research (summarized here).
- Amnesty International, Freedom of Expression and the Internet.
- Counter Extremism Project (2016), “Counter Extremism Project Unveils Technology to Combat Online Extremism.”
- Denyer, Simon (2016), “China’s scary lesson to the world: Censoring the Internet works,” The Washington Post.
- Department of Homeland Security (2016), “Countering Violent Extremism.”
- Franklin-Wallace, Oliver (2016), “Extremely Together is playing ISIS at its own game to tackle extremism,” Wired.
- Hussain, Ghaffar; Saltman, Erin Marie (2016), “Jihad Trending: A Comprehensive Analysis of Online Extremism and How to Counter it,” Quilliam.
- Hutt, Rosamond (2016), “Tech giants have found a way to fight extremism online. Is it working?,” World Economic Forum.
- Kenney, Michael; Coulthart, Stephen; Wright, Dominick (2016), “Structure and Performance in a Violent Extremist Network — The Small-world Solution,” The Journal of Conflict Resolution.
- Menn, Joseph; Volz, Dustin (2016), “Google, Facebook quietly move toward automatic blocking of extremist videos,” Reuters.
- Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (2016), “Human rights must be guaranteed when fighting violent extremism online, participants at OSCE workshop in Sarajevo say.”
- Quinn, Ben (2016), “Google to point extremist searches towards anti-radicalisation websites,” The Guardian.
- Radsch, Courtney (2015), “Privatizing censorship in fight against extremism is risk to press freedom,” Committee to Protect Journalists.
- Silverman, Tanya; Stewart, Christopher J.; Birdwell, Jonathan; Amanullah, Zahed (2016), “The Impact of Counter-Narratives: Insights from a year-long cross-platform pilot study of counter-narrative curation, targeting, evaluation and impact,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
Every time I get on the internet, I seem to find more stuff to add to this topic. As such, I’ve decided to turn this into an ongoing project. If the dark side of democratization fascinates (or terrifies) you, please check back every now and then for updates to this page!
And if you have any information or resources you’d like to contribute, feel free to leave a comment below. Thanks for reading!