Thursday, November 17, 2016

From junk food to junk news

Remarkably, surrounded by an abundance of choices people chose what feels good, not what is good. With junk food, it's a combination of fat, sugar and salt that fools taste buds into craving for more. With junk news, it's the confirmation bias that fools brains into craving for more news that conform to their world view.

According to Buzzfeed, during the 2016 election cycle fake news outperformed real news.

Due the difference in feedback mechanisms, the situation with junk news is worse than with junk food. That is, after having a junk food diet for an extended period of time, people can at least use scales to discover that their weight has gone up. By contrast, after having a junk news brain diet, people can only get stronger in their opinions because their social network keeps rewarding them for consuming and sharing the junk.

Can we solve the problem without resorting to censorship? One way to look at it would be to consider the situation from a point of view widely adopted in another domain - money and finance. That is, today's fake money is easily detected and discarded, so that the society doesn't fall into the trap of the Gresham's Law. Similarly, fake news can be detected by a variety of technologies, including a BitCoin-like approach that verifies authenticity of the news and news sources. Fake news, like fake coins should be taken out of circulation. Otherwise, our brains get stupid by consuming junk news, just like our bodies can get fat, by consuming junk food.

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