Archive for Fake News

When Belief Trumps Fact: Waging The War On Fake News

by John Weckerle

Throughout our history at New Mexico Central we have, at times, attempted to shine a light on what is now widely termed “fake news” when we see it (and when time permits) – and we will continue to do so as often as we can. In concert with this, we have long been fascinated by the factors that feed into what appears to be an insistence on the part of some people to believe things even when factual evidence is provided that disproves the concept in which belief is held. This phenomenon has never been more obviously present or widespread than it has in the year or so leading up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and in the months since.

In a Scientific American article titled How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail: Why worldview threats undermine evidence (originally published with the title “When Facts Backfire), Michael Shermer, author of the magazines Skeptic column (and also the founding publisher of Skeptic Magazine and author of The Believing Brain) discusses cognitive dissonance, which he describes as “the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.”  In the article, quotes a study by Brendan Nyhan (Dartmouth College) and Jason Reifler (University of Exeter) in which subjects were provided first with fake newspaper articles and then an article correcting the misinformation in the first.  After reading the correction, the subjects believed the initial article even more strongly. The researchers termed this “the backfire effect” in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.” The reason: “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.”

Dr. Shermer provides some fascinating information on this phenomenon in The Believing Brain, and many of the relevant concepts are discussed in his Ted Talk The pattern behind self-deception, which we highly recommend (along with his other Ted Talk, Why people believe weird things). In the former Ted Talk, as in the book, Dr Shermer explains “patternicity” – the “tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise” – and identifies two types of error – Type 1, seeing a pattern where there is none, and Type II, not perceiving a pattern that is real.  These are false positives and false negatives. Later, in the talk, he introduces the concept of agenticity, “the tendency to infuse patterns with meaning, intention and agency, often invisible beings from the top down.” Agents may include a number of concepts; some examples provided include ghosts, gods, aliens, intelligent designers, and government conspirators. He then addresses conspiracy theories, observing that many are believed even though they are shown to be false – while noting, of course that some conspiracy theories are actually true.

In the Scientific American article, Dr. Shermer provides a strategy for potentially changing at least some minds caught up in believing falsehoods – a strategy very much like the one New Mexico Central has followed, albeit admittedly sometimes less than perfectly. We have focused specifically, in many cases, on re-posted/recycled falsehoods that again fall into the category of fake news. What we have found, at least in a couple of cases, that directly addressing the re-posts some times results in a reduced frequency in their appearance, and in one case may have lead to a cessation. Nobody likes to be shown as purveying falsehood, and stopping fake news anywhere in the chain can only help, even if just a little. With two years to mid-term elections, we have a lot of work to do in the hope that perhaps voters will have better information on which to base their decisions than they did last year.

To that end, we have expanded into the “Twitterverse” and will be moving into Facebook, so we can find, follow, and potentially correct misinformation and disinformation as it is forwarded/re-posted. We hope that our readers, when presented with the inevitable e-mail forwards, re-posted articles, and similar communications containing fake news or misleading information, will consider sending us a link or forward them to  and providing us with the source so we can follow up.


Pakistan and Israel To Nuke Each Other

by John Weckerle

Okay, not really, but we figured that the fake news enthusiasts out there would appreciate the title – and those who disdain fake news will very likely get a bit of a kick out of this story.

As reported by The Hill, “Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif tweeted, ‘Israeli def min threatens nuclear retaliation presuming pak role in Syria against Daesh.Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too AH.'” This was in response to an “article” posted on AWD News which “Moshe Yaalon, Israeli Defense Minister” as saying “‘As far as we are concerned,that is a threat,if, by misfortune, they arrive in Syria, we will know what to do,we will destroy them with a nuclear attack.'” Moshe Bogie Ya’alon is actually the former defense minister.

We checked both gentlemen’s Twitter accounts and confirmed that Mr. Asif was correctly quoted by The Hill.  Mr. Ya’alon’s twitter feed is problematic; not only are most posts in Hebrew, which your editor has not yet learned, but they are posted as images (an apparent attempt to get around Twitter’s character limits) and thus could not be run through a translation app; we are therefore unable to assess any reaction Mr. Ya’alon may have expressed on Twitter to the idea of Pakistan’s involvement in the conflict with ISIS.

For those not familiar with Twitterspeak, Mr. Asif’s tweet more or less translates to “Israeli defense minister threatens nuclear retaliation presuming a Pakistani role in Syria against Daesh. Israel forgets that Pakistan is a Nuclear state, too, AH.” We find the final abbreviation to be perhaps the most amusing aspect of the story, perhaps even more so than the fact that Mr. Asif was taken in by the fake news story to begin with.  Those unfamiliar with this particular abbreviation may find an explanation here.  Apparently, the manners and decorum of international political discourse have taken a page from that seen during our recent electoral cycle.

A Picture Isn’t Always Worth Many Words

by John Weckerle

We continue to peruse the internet in search of local political commentary, and came across this post on Sandia Tea Party Official Internet Spokesman Chuck Ring’s blog.  With our curiosity in a state of pique, we decided to poke around the web and learn a little about the photograph contained within the post.

As it turns out, this image has reportedly been used in disinformation campaigns, including a posting of the photo by President Elect Donald J. Trump’s attorney in October suggesting that he had received an award from the NAACP.  We found this article from the Huffington Post to be very interesting.  The article points out that the award, correctly named the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, as well as the organization that awarded it (the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, or NECO) came into being as an outraged reaction to then-President Ronald Reagan’s decision to award the Medal of Freedom to 12 naturalized citizens.  NECO was formed by Mr. Trump’s real estate broker, William Fugazy, and Mr. Trump received the award in its first year.  We have found no specific reason for Mr. Trump’s receipt of the award.

According to the Huffington Post article:

Officially, the medal criteria are broad and inclusive: Winners should “uphold the ideals and spirit of America,” while “maintaining the traditions of their ethnic heritage.” In practice, the winners are mostly white Americans of European descent.

They certainly were the year Mr. Trump received the award; as reported by the Huffington Post and as documented in this New York Times article, only four of the 80 recipients that year were African Americans.

The NECO website states: “The Ellis Island Medals of Honor embody the spirit of America in their celebration of patriotism, tolerance, brotherhood and diversity.” It is perhaps rather ironic that, as the Huffington Post article points out, “At the time, Trump and his father held the dubious honor of having been the defendants in one of the largest-ever housing discrimination lawsuits, a case sparked by a Justice Department civil rights investigation that found the Trumps discriminated against prospective tenants who were black.” And it is perhaps even more ironic that the person dead-center in the photo posted on Mr. Ring’s site is none other than anti-gay activist Anita Bryant, whose name had by that time become synonymous with that particular form of bigotry.

We’ll leave it to our readers to form their own opinions (and, of course, post them here; unlike the Sandia Tea Party site and Mr. Ring’s, we allow comments) as to whether or not Mr. Trump is a racist.  We’ll simply observe that standing next to a civil rights icon in a photo doesn’t make one “not a racist” any more than standing next to an oak makes one a tree.

In closing, we note that the NECO website lists Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a past awardee.

A Little Catching Up, And A Little Clearing Up

by John Weckerle

With the election safely over, we turned to some of our local favorites to see what sort of high-fiving might be going on – and surprisingly found essentially none among our normal haunts.  After apparently selling its trademark to the fossil fuel industry (the site essentially became a re-posting venue for screeds by petroleum industry-funded fossil fuel advocate Marita Noon), the Sandia Tea Party site appears to have gone “dark” in October.  As expected (and hoped), the East Mountain Tea Party remains silent, but a little searching revealed that its former denizens Therese Cooper and Char Tierney are alive and kicking on the internet, dispensing their version of reality via Facebook. We don’t want to be raising the relevance scores on their accounts, so we won’t link directly, but on Facebook they are therese.cooper.9 and char.tierney.9, respectively, the latter having recently changed her Facebook account from CharTierney.  Both accounts are reminiscent of what we saw on the East Mountain Tea Party site and sites associated with the Table of the Remnant and Operation Jesus Pictures.  Silvana Lupetti is also apparently on Facebook (SilvanaLupetti). Unfortunately, we didn’t find anything particularly worth commenting on, but we’ll keep an eye out just in case.

We do, however, occasionally receive e-mails from readers containing what might be described in the current vernacular as “fake news,” and we thought we’d share a little of that with you today. We recently received an e-mail containing the following:

»» A Little Catching Up, And A Little Clearing Up