Thanks to Barry Woods for pointing out this event:
which is a meeting of the Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 23rd January, 2018, taking evidence from three academics on the subject of “the effects of fake news and disinformation on people’s behaviours.” Lewandowsky was there, and despite the fact that the evident interest of the committee was on the question of Russian (or other) interference in elections, Lewandowsky managed to mention climate denialism three times, and get articles in this morning’s Sun, the Mail and elsewhere.
Here are the relevant excerpts:
MP: Is fake news and misinformation two very distinct things?
Lew: Yes, Totally there’s and I think there’s work now on categorising different types of misinformation… basically I would differentiate most importantly between specifically targeted curated lies that are designed to achieve a particular purpose on the one hand but that make a claim to reality, and the issues that come to mind there would be what I call climate denial, where there’s a systematic attempt to claim the same reality with an alternative story, and then on the other hand we have a sort of free for all constructivist shock and chaos misinformation and fake news that don’t even make a claim to reality any more…
Chairman: From what you’re saying, speed is an underlying factor in fake news
Lew: Get to people before the misinformation does, then there’s evidence to show that they will be able to filter it out better. One example is a recent study which I published with colleagues last year where we told people about the way the tobacco industry in the 50s and 60s was trying to create the appearance of a scientific debate about tobacco, when in fact the science was quite clear. Once you remind people of that precedent they then became extremely resilient to misinformation about climate change which followed the same playbook. So it is possible to give people inoculation like a vaccine almost against misinformation by pointing to specific rhetorical strategies that are misleading. But you have to get to them first.
Chairman: That’s quite interesting. So your view would be that a strategy to combat fake news is to talk about fake news quite a lot and make people aware that it’s out there.
Lew: Well, yes. The more you can get to people ahead of time and educate them about discernment and how you can tell a twitter troll from a real twitter person chances are that has a positive effect. But I don’t think it’s the only way to go by any means. We can train people, we can teach people, we can educate people, all of that, but I think we also need to change the infrastructure, the whole ecosystem of on-line information to make it harder for misinformation to spread.
[On flat earthers] …Now today, that same person, no matter how absurd the belief is, will find a community on Facebook, because there’ll be someone else in Denmark who thinks the earth is flat, ane then they’re joined by someone from Turkey and all of a sudden they have an epistemic community. The moment that happens, their opinion becomes entrenched, because they see no reason to change it. Social signals are there telling me: “Oh, everybody else feels the same way.” and we have data on that. In a recent Australian study on climate change, only 8% of people were found to completely negate the idea that the climate is changing, but those 8% thought that their opinion was shared by half the population. And that was because they were all in this echo chamber and talked to each other and felt their opinions confirmed, and I think that’s a novel problem that’s inherent to the technology, that people think, whatever they think, that other people think the same way.