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Stopping the spread of misinformation; the psychology of social media

'... ideas that are demonstrable false, for which there is no evidence and which you can demonstrate are actually false, are the ideas that spread widely and quickly,' said Keeper.

Posted: Jun 2, 2020 5:31 PM
Updated: Jun 2, 2020 7:49 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. – Medford Police tells NewsWatch 12 there were a lot of rumors going around on social media and throughout the community surrounding Monday night’s protest for justice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“Ultimately, I think the biggest concern was that there was a large contingency of Antifa and a violent group that was going to come to Medford and that never materialized,” said Medford’s Chief of Police, Scott Clauson.

Clauson says even though it turned out to be false, police were ready.

“In a sense, we over-prepare, just in case,” said Clauson, “I felt an obligation to protect our citizens in our downtown business are and so that was really my main focus.”

Medford Police has a Tactical Information Analyst that watches online trends and movement on a local and national level.

“She’s able to follow some of the traffic and even locally you can see, from some of the comments, that there were a few that really wanted to keep it peaceful, there were a few that you could tell, we’re trying to incite some type of violence. They are monitoring those comments and that intelligence is getting back to us,” said Clauson.

Cyber security is a nationwide issue and something that has even been studied by scientists.

“It’s actually become a topic of scientific investigation,” said Dr. George Keepers, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Oregon Health and Science University. “There is a tremendous amount of scientific investigation on this topic and it’s published in the major journals so we do understand a fair amount of what happens with this problem.”

According to Keepers, studies have shown that false information on social media spreads faster and is more wide-spread than the truth.

“It turns out that ideas that are demonstrable false, for which there is no evidence and which you can demonstrate are actually false, are the ideas that spread widely and quickly,” said Keepers.

As a physician and scientist, Keepers says it’s a part of the human thought process to create theories to explain circumstances and that science has shown that people will seek out and believe information that confirms their pre-existing biases, even if that information is false.

“So they are, in effect, self-selecting information from social media that convinces them of what they believe to start with is true,” said Keepers.

Social media also works within its algorithms to establish like-minded groups of people, which can reinforce existing biases.

“They reinforce each other’s beliefs and in what is call a “bubble chamber” or “echo chamber” so that the only voices that they hear are the ones that are consistent with what they believe,” said Keepers.

According to Keeper, one of the best things people can do to prevent misinformation is face check with credible sources.

According to the FBI, people can create fake websites that produce lots of content, in little time, and fake accounts to share the content and make it appear popular and legitimate. The FBI has a entire webpage dedicated to explaining misinformation on social media and ways you can stop the spread and recognized a false website.

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