There’s been a lot of discussion on fake news lately. Facebook and Google are reportedly trying to fight against it, and U.S. President Obama himself has become obsessed with it. No matter where your personal allegiances lie, fake news is a bipartisan issue — it affects all of us. Recently, Stanford History Education Group posted findings of some research into student’s abilities to distinguish fake or biased news from unbiased sources. In their studies, they tested students at middle school, high school and college level. However, “in every case and at every level, [they] were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation.” Some students were even unable to identify normal advertisements from actual news. This is a dangerous trend and must be reversed.
The complete lack of skepticism, combined with the echo-chamber effect makes for a dangerous combination. One of my goals with Source Gaming is to have you guys question the source of what you are reading (yes, even us!) and how that impacts what is written. Is the translator capable? Is the author knowledgeable about the subject they are talking about? What is the end goal of the content? Is it to inform? Is it to sell the reader on a point? These are all questions everyone should be asking themselves all the time.I try to prime readers by including a warning about opinions, but many sites don’t do this.
Another issue is the lack of willingness to spend time on content. The Internet is a buffet, with an all you can eat plan. People go into the restaurant, take a bite of everything and throw it away instead of actually trying it. I’ve encountered several people who “read” news, but they only read the headlines. This creates a huge burden when titles needs to balance being catchy and informative. Since news is a business, they are going to prefer catchy as they need the clicks.
At the same time — there’s not an easy solution. Fake news is profitable because of outrage (and reverse outrage) culture online. News that’s somewhat shocking is far more likely to be spread online than news that’s run of the mill — boring. CGP Grey has done a great video on the spread of content and emotions, and the impact on how that content transforms.
One example of this is the “male birth control pill”. Even NPR covered the story as the pill getting dropped solely because “Men Say They’re Not Willing to Put Up With Side Effects” which is half true. While it’s true that some men didn’t like the side effects, the trial wasn’t shelved solely because of the side effects. This post explains that a significant amount of men had side effects (more than the female pill), some men were still sterile for months after the injections, and one participant killed themselves over the mood swings. However, this is one example on how facts can be distorted to sell a news story.
What does this have to do with gaming? Well, a whole lot. With the lack of journalistic standards in gaming (especially with how closely gaming journalism and promotion is), fake news or sponsored news is incredibly high. The most obvious example is sites are sometimes posting press releases, verbatim, as news. Other examples are sites covering leaks that have little evidence behind them. For a lot of sites, it doesn’t matter how well they cover something, all that matters is your click. Again, news is not a public service, it’s a business.
I don’t want to sound like I’m just patting myself on the back, but before Source Gaming there was a TON of misinformation in the Smash fandom. We haven’t been perfect, and we’ve made some mistakes, but we try our best to give the Smash fanbase the tools they need to be educated and make their own decisions. Smash speculation is inherently better because of the team’s effort to go back and the correct mistakes and misinformation. However, not every fandom has a Source Gaming, and a lot of people still believe a lot of unfounded quotes and rumors. Kotaku has recently posted about this issue as well. The issue of fake news and gaming is not going to be solved overnight, and there’s no easy solution to the problem.
Just like with normal news, there’s no incentive to post actual news as the market has decided clickbait is gold. If nothing is done, this issue will continue to become bigger. There’s been some suggestions on how to fix this. One is to limit the ability of those sites to be found on search engines or social media sites. However, this runs into the risk of censorship. If a site were to report on something that Facebook didn’t want public, will Facebook brand them as a fake news site, even if their allegations are true?
John Stuart Mill has argued about the dangers of “dead dogma” in his influential piece, On Liberty. Censorship can only cause harm, even if it’s censoring content that is factually or morally wrong. Opposing ideas must be entertained, to remind us of the ideas we hold true, and to reinforce or destroy them. Stagnant thoughts do not grow into anything but mold which poisons the mind.
In my opinion, the burden of fixing this issue relies on the people themselves. We must learn how to become more objective, how to become more skeptic. If we are unwilling to critically think and use our most powerful muscle, then we can never hope to solve this issue.