Should we trust Fortune?

Most commonly known for its rankings (e.g. Fortune 500 is the annual ranking of the largest corporations by revenue in the United States), Fortune is one of the most influential business magazine in circulation (Ipsos Affluent Survey, 2016). Published and owned by Time Inc., Fortune can be found both in print and digital media. It has a worldwide circulation of 1.2 million and a digital traffic of 17.8 million UVs.
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For more facts and figures about Fortune click here! 

Fortune has gained its reputation as an influential business magazine for more than 85 years. In 2014, due to major changes in the holding, Fortune launched a new independent digital platform to share their long journalistic tradition online (Barnett & Serwer, 2014). Their aim of becoming a “fast-paced news business site” and to be a competitive news outlet in today’s digital age, has lead them to increasingly produce more and more material to stay up to date. For these reasons, we believe that in order to keep up with the demand, Fortune may be inclined to use news from other sources, and may neglect checking the facts from every source they use. With the intention of getting a complete account on the veracity and consistency of Fortune’s reporting, three articles were put under the spotlight to be fact-checked.

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All three (1, 2, 3) articles were thoroughly checked and were fully accounted for. Besides a couple of “mishaps”, all facts checked out to be true whether in primary or secondary sources. Numbers, dates, titles, names and reports were properly cited to provide complete quality pieces. Nevertheless, the fact-checking process lead to some interesting conclusions on the journalistic practices of Fortune when it comes to the use of sources.

Two of the three articles chosen for this report were credited to Reuters and as such, they were written under their journalists Trust Principles protocol. Unfortunately, the original writers of the articles did not answer to our inquiries which might have given us more insight into the writing process they follow. Fortune, like most news outlets, acquires pieces from news agencies like Reuters and reproduces articles without any editorial touches. Although both articles were almost flawless in the delivery of their facts, no work was done by Fortune to corroborate this and took what Reuters reported at face value. This seems to be a common practice for Fortune and other mediums who have come to depend on paid news agencies to produce sufficient content (Burger & Hamers-Regimbal, 2009).

In the third article we saw a different trend but with a similar modus operandus. The article was written by a freelance writer for Fortune and although all the facts that were accounted for, there was no real journalistic work done by the writer. He simply reproduced the content of a press release and main findings of a report. When contacted about his fact checking process, he admitted skipping it since the source was “reputable” enough. Moreover, he explained that on any given morning he writes 3 to 4 articles and it is not uncommon for him not to fact check every piece. In this case, the reporter took the information provided by the company at face value and did little to non investigative work.

“I read several pages of the report in detail. I did not have time to read all of it, nor did I have time to read the associated databook, so I did not do my own research or interpretations of the data… With a less reputable organization, I would have perhaps been more skeptical and looked more closely at the raw data.” (David Meyer, Freelance journalist for Fortune)

Just like in the other two articles, this seems to be part of a bigger trend. Kovach and Rosenstiel (2011), refer to this trend as Journalism of Assertion. This type of journalism puts the highest value on immediacy/speed and volume without much editorial review. The demand for producing pieces and renewing content is so big, that in order to keep up, Fortune and its employees are willing to bypass a vital process in journalistic work: FACT-CHECKING. Moreover, a common justification given by journalists when questioned about the accuracy of their work is credited to the reliability of sources: “institutional sources are reliable, sources have proven to be reliable, press agency material is assumed reliable“ (Burger and Hamers-Regimbal, 2009, p. 11). This was also seen in the analysis of the three articles as they take sources as reliable without questioning it further.

Whether it be by reproducing pieces from a paid source or by swiftly copying existing content, Fortune’s prestige as a credible outlet is at stake. Journalists not only have an obligation to the truth but they also have an obligation to their audience, and if Fortune decides to sacrifice QUALITY for QUANTITY, how can they comply with such obligations? Although our analysis showed no major wrongdoings, three articles might not be sufficient to make significant conclusions. We believe that at the rate in which content is being uploaded and renewed, eventually mistakes will be done mostly by being overconfident of their sources. Regardless of these findings, it has become crucial for everyone to develop critical skills when reading news articles, and gain the ability to assess objective, credible and reliable journalism.

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BE CRITICAL!
Opinions are not facts.
Don’t take anything for granted.

 

References:

  • Barnett, M., & Serwer, A. (2014, June 1). Inside the all-new Fortune.com. Retrieved December 05, 2017, from http://fortune.com/2014/06/01/inside-the-all-new-fortune-com/
  • Burger, P., & Hamers-Regimbal, M. (2009). Checking the facts: the contested core of journalists’ professional ethos.
  • Kovach, B., & Rosenstiel, T. (2011). Blur: How to know what’s true in the age of information overload. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.

BREXIT or BREGRET?

Remember BREXIT?

It may feel like the referendum took place a while ago, but the aftermath is still shaking up the UK. It was the most unexpected and tight turn of events in recent history… well until the US elections.

It doesn’t even seem like most people were informed about what they were voting for nor the consequences of their actions, until all the ballots were in. With 48.1% voting Remain and 51.2% voting Leave, there doesn’t seem to be much of a majority…

Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 04.08.46leavevs remain

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, despite the referendum not being legally binding, Theresa May went on ahead and triggered Article 50

How did we get to BREXIT?  

This blog could go on and on about the countless misleading information that was spread during the campaigning prior the referendum. But this week’s topic is about dealing with misinformation. However, to solve the problem, it is important to understand how it came to be in the first place by highlighting a key example:

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  • Alternative Fact: The EU costs the UK over £350 million every week – nearly £20 billion a year
  • FACT: The UK paid £275 million in 2014 and fell to its lowest in 2016 at about £156 million a week, hence £8.1 billion and not the £20billion printed on the UKIP bus
    (Watch Farage deny what he’d claimed during the campaigning along here)
  • Fun FACT: The UK actually gets money back from the EU! Mainly through payments to farmers and poorer areas of the country (most of the regions who voted LEAVE). In fact, €11.8 billion was allocated as funding to the UK for 2014 to 2020.

The Spread of the Infection

This is just one key example of how the Leave campaign mislead their supporters. Moreover, an observation made by Harich (2012) helps to understand how misleading politicians can infect certain supporters. These politicians tend to adopt one main strategy: the spread of falsehood (corruption) over the spread of truth (virtue).

In the case of Brexit, it is evident that the use of falsehood was at the core of the campaigning and misled a lot of misinformed voters. Moreover, the model proposed by Harich (2012) helps to understand how the Leave campaign was able to influence supporters through the use of misleading information.

The Race to the Bottom Model

The model illustrates a vicious loop that is strengthened using corruption in the form of falsehood. The model treats an incoming meme in the same way a body would react to an incoming virus. To understand the Race to the Bottom, you should know the following:

  • MEME: a mental belief that is transmitted from one mind to another, in this case false memes
  • DEGENERATE: someone who has fallen from the norm

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From the model you can see that people’s beliefs are strengthened from false memes, which are continuously bombarded through the use of false messages. Thus, supporters become “infected” by false memes.

In BREXIT’s case, the virus was the Leave campaign: all the falsehoods and misleading messages spread during the campaign through interviews, articles, meeting with supporters, media coverage. BBC was even called out for its bias in favour of UKIP. This  sparked false memes to mature and amplify across the beliefs of Leave supporters.

“The end justifies the means”

The more influence a degenerate politician has, the more false memes they can transmit, and the loop starts over again (Harich, 2012).

Deception: the act of propagating a belief that is fake

Degenerate politicians will commonly use deception to mislead their audience. It can come in a number of ways, and was used during Brexit:

  • False Promise: A promise that is made but never delivered, or never delivered fully. False promises are widely used to win segments of the population
    • BREXIT: Leaving the EU will have more money spent on the NHS.
    • FACT: No plan has been put forward and predictions for the economy look ugly. The NHS annual budget should amount to about £120billion, however the “Brexit-budget” could be estimated at £2.5billion.
  • False Enemy: Something that appears to be a significant threat, but in fact is not. Creating a false enemy works because it evokes the fight or flight response. Our brains simply cannot resist being influenced by a confrontation with a possible enemy.
    • BREXIT: EU bullies the UK and its sovereignty and “consistently loses in the EU because other members favour a highly regulated and protectionist economy.
    • FACT: Since 1999 the UK has been in the majority of votes 2,474 acts, abstained on 70 occasions, and were in the minority on 57 legislative acts.
  • Pushing the Fear Hot Button: Happens whenever a politician talks about: terrorism, crime, immigration, any threat to “national security” or “our way of life”, then the politician is pushing the fear hot button. Whether or not there really is an enemy out there, it creates a feeling and fear that there is one.
    • BREXIT: On Immigration: “not good for our quality of life, it is not good for social cohesion in our society, and our population inexorably headed towards 70 million or 75 million, will not make this a better, richer or happier place to be” (Nigel Farage)

The Power of Social Media

With everything being accessed online nowadays, the spreading of misinformation is magnified. Social media was shown to be very effective for the Leave campaign:

  • Instagram: There were twice as many Brexit supporters on Instagram, and banskthey were 5 times more active than Remain supporters
  • Twitter: Leave followers outnumbered Remain followers 7 to 1
  • The 3 most commonly used hashtags during the referendum were:  #Brexit, #Beleave, and #VoteLeave

Brexit supporters had a more powerful and emotional message and were more effective in the use of social media than the Remain campaign. With the help of the Internet, pro-Leavers created the perception of mass public support, attracting more voters, and more specifically, undecided voters.

BREGRET?

Bregret seems to be slowly increasing… In a YouGov poll, the public was asked “In hindsight do you think it was right or wrong to vote to leave the European Union?Screen Shot 2017-12-06 at 02.09.31

The CURE

“Misleading information doesn’t come with a label” people do not usually recognise that a piece of information is incorrect (Lewandowsky et al., 2012). Media sources must “RETHINK their role and give consumers context and coherence they want and need in an age of overload, otherwise consumers will continue to avoid information-seeking behaviours” (Lee et al., 2017).

With the Web 2.0, people have switched from being only consumers of content to active creators of content. We get our news from news outlets but also from what’s been shared on Facebook, or being Tweeted. I know that avoiding subjective impulses and remaining objective is easier said than done. However, it has become our responsibility to remain critical in this age of information overload. Nevertheless, “it’s not just what people think that matters, but how they think” (Cook & Lewandowsky, 2011). When counter-arguing misinformation, it is key to understand that people process and evaluate information differently. Existing beliefs and world-views can influence one’s ability to process information rationally.

With this in mind, here are a few tips and tricks that can be considered the next time you scroll down or share on your newsfeed, read a news article, hear information that raises skepticism, or maybe even prevent the next EXIT:

  1. Focus on the Facts you Wish to Communicate
    Debunking the myth: continuously talking about a myth was shown to have a Backfire Effect and may have reinforced it in people’s minds. When you debunk a myth, a gap must be filled with a clear explanation to avoid the person from opting for the wrong explanation

TIP: Communicate core fact in headline debunking should begin with emphasis on facts and check the source of what you’re sharing

  1. Avoid Confirmation Bias
    Confirmation bias occurs from the direct influence of desire on beliefs. We tend to search for, or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions

Tip: Increase your familiarity with the facts by looking at more sources and questioning the facts

  1. Be Critical, ALWAYS
    Check who is posting, where the source is from, ask yourself if the story runs true and whether all the facts match up.

Tip: Check the piece of information against other knowledge so you can assess its compatibility

This may all seem like wishful thinking, our online lives are bombarded by information 24/7, and all this seems effortful, requiring time and motivation to look further than just one source. But, in this way you can ensure you remain on top of the facts and prevent the feeling of being misled or deceived. Thus, my final statement for this topic is:

“Knowing that our attention spam lasts the time of just a few scrolls, and that misleading information is shared on all platforms, we are responsible to objectively interpret the information that is presented to us.”

What do you think?

 

* More Tips for Thought:

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References: 

  • Hachir, J. (2012). The Dueling Loops of the Political Powerplace. Thwink.org. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from http://www.thwink.org/sustain/articles/005/DuelingLoops.pdf
  • Lee, S.K., Lindsey, N., & Kim, K.S. (2017). The effects of news consumption via social media and news information overload on perceptions of journalistic norms and practices.  Computers in Human Behavior. 75, p. 254-263
  • Lewandowsky, S., & Cook, J. (2012). The Debunking Handbook. Retrieved December 5, 2017, from https://www.skepticalscience.com/docs/Debunking_Handbook.pdf
  •  Lewandowsky, S., Ecker. H. K. U., Seifert, M.C., Schwartz, N., & Cook, J. (2012). Misinformation and its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interes,. 13(3), p. 106-131
  • Van der Linden, S., Leiserowitz, A., Rosenthal, S., & Maibach, E. (2017). Inoculating the public against misinformation about climate change. Global challenges, 1, 1-7

RIGGED Polls or Simply Incorrect?

In 2016, the USA faced a year of heated campaigning between two candidates. One being called out for her past actions, and another for his bigotry. They sparked a GLOBAL debate, with everyone wanting to know who it was going to be: Trump or Clinton? The months leading up to the election, as both campaigns were trying to sabotage each other, the polls were continuously being shared, and predicted a very tight race. However, as tight as the race may have seemed, most polls were in favour of Clinton. No one really expected Trump to win, apart from maybe Trump, who was persuaded the election was RIGGED. The word rigged was used a lot during the election, and funnily enough a year since the election- we are still seeing his tweets about rigged polls shared by the “FAKE News”.

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This constant delegitimising of the media over the last year, and with the topic of misleading data in mind, it came to my attention that a clear distinction between polling needs to be made:

  • Incorrect polling
  • Purposefully misleading polling

In this blog, I want to explore the difference between these two types of polling to understand the scope and depth of what is going on in the USA.

The Role of a Poll

First you may ask yourself what is a poll? As stated by Meyer, “The purpose of an election poll is to predict the outcome of an election” (2012). In times of an election, polls are one of the most used methods in survey research, and typically aim to gain insight into the public’s opinion towards a candidate. Since Trump was elected, polls have been used to see what the public thinks of his administration. However, before getting to Trump’s accomplishments… let’s have a look at how polls are done and how biases can affect the misinterpretation of data, and thus form incorrect predictions.

SAMPLING is essential in polling. Even though it would be the most reliable way of knowing what the USA wants, it is evident that one is not going to ask the opinion of all 325,334,304 US citizens, on Trump and Clinton. However, one should establish a sample size that is realistic but that will give you enough data for your predictions. Meyer’s golden rule is that, “each member of the population to which one wants to generalise, must have a known chance of being included in the sample” (2012). The typical methods of achieving this are through telephone and household sampling. However, this can lead to biased results, where members of the intended sample are less likely to be included than others. This can be linked to the socioeconomic demographic of an audience or simply poor planning and bad timing of the pollster.

Where Polls go Bias

In some cases, pollsters may feel uncomfortable going into “bad neighbourhoods”, they may knock at a time when the person is not at home, or come at a time when the sampled person to be interviewed is not there. Moreover, Meyer argues that landlines bring additional bias towards less-educated people as they may be less inclined to cooperate with an interviewer, or less knowledgeable about certain issues (Meyer, 2012). Some other the reasons for why these polls may fail are:

  • Reachability Bias: this occurs when a pollster calls landlines, and anyone who responds is part of the sample. However, this also means that whoever is unreachable and doesn’t respond, will be an underrepresentation in the sample. In Trump’s case, a lot of Trump voters were considered a key demographic hard to reach, and thus could be one of the reasons the polls predicted in favour of Clinton (Mercer, Deane & McGeeney, 2016).
  • Non-response Bias: generally, this happens because people tend to not like participating in polls. This bias can be due to individuals not having the time, not giving the time, and not feeling the need put their input. This can lead to an overrepresentation of people who are eager to participate, and undermine those who keep their votes to themselves. This being said, some agree the frustration and anger that was aroused at Trump rallies, which drove his campaign, were also factors that lead towards an unwillingness to respond to polls (Mercer, Deane & McGeeney, 2016).
  • Opinion Bias: will occur when people don’t feel comfortable sharing their views with a pollster, and don’t like to admit to some opinions. This can result in overrepresentation of socially acceptable opinion, and can lead to views being left unheard of by the mainstream. Silver’s polling website, talks about the “shy Trump” phenomenon which believes polls undersold Trump as some supporters were unwilling to admit their backing of the administration.

Do Polls affect Opinion?

The abundant polls that came out before the election were clearly eager to know what people were thinking. However, could this have affected the view on some? Morwitz and Pluzinski point out that polls have become a “ubiquitous media element in political campaigns” (1996). They attract a lot of attention, and not only reflect popular opinion, but affect popular opinion. Moreover, they claimed polls can also have a positive influence on the predictive accuracy of voter turnout and undecided voters.

accuracy-predict model

Using Moody’s model to illustrate the 2016 election predictions, I believe Scenario C depicts it perfectly.

 

Evidently, the predictions were not accurate, and this may be due to a whole range of people not being represented in the polls. People with strong opinions and a need for change. The following theory helps to understand the underlying motives behind individuals who may have been swayed or stuck with their decision on November 8, 2016.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory suggests: “We have an inner drive to hold our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance)”  

Extending to the theory of cognitive dissonance, Frey explored “selective exposure”, and determined several assumptions involved in the decision-making process (1986). They implied that “post-decisional information seeking and evaluation” was biased by factors activated during the decision-making process. Some of these factors include and remain highly relevant to the 2016 election:

  • People prefer information that supports their decisions, beliefs and standpoints on certain matters that are personal to them. They thus choose to avoid any contradicting information that contradicts their cognitive style.
  •  People will unconsciously choose the most effective strategy to reduce the discrepancy of cognitive state, and “guarantee a reduction of experienced dissonance”.
  • The ceiling effect that people construct for themselves will diminish as the amount of dissonance approaches. Hence, people will slowly become accustomed and may start to agree with certain tendencies, especially in the case of undecided voters (Frey, 1986).

Misleading the Public?

misleadingtrumpIs there anything misleading here? Trump may be close to the 45% reported by Rasmussen Reports Daily (but it’s still not accurate), and nevertheless purposefully decides to leave out the 53% that disapprove his presidency. Moreover, #Fakenews is ubiquitous in his tweets and along with the support of Fox News, Trump is able to push his agenda forward, whatever that may be.

Have we entered an era of Post-Truth?

One would think Trump was happy sitting in the oval office and busy getting things done. However, his insecurities have lead him to continuously start a debate on the alternative fact that the elections were rigged. This continuous call-out on the credibility of the media during and after the elections may have had a strong influence on the thoughts and decisions made by the voters last year. Moreover, “elections perceived as unfair can reduce governmental credibility and undermine the perceptions of voter efficacy” (Cottrell, Herron & Westwood, 2017). Trump did this by asserting his loss of the popular vote on voter fraud, which has yet to be verified

So, my question remains, did Trump affect the results by continuously misinforming his audience?

In a digital age where information is projected at us at an exceeding rate, “the amount of knowledge in the world is increasing, the gap between what we know and what we think we know may be widening” (Silver, 2012).

Will the misleading continue? And if so, how far will it go?

 

*To avoid any confusion, for those leaving a comment please make sure to click on the actual blog post.

References:

  • Cottrell, D., Herron, M., & Westwood, S. (2017). An exploration of Donald Trump’s allegations of massive voter fraud in the 2016 General Election. Electoral Studies , 1-20.
  • Frey, D. (1986). Recent Research on Selective Exposure to Information . Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 41-80.
  • Mercer, A., Deane, C., & McGeeney, K. (2016) Why 2016 election polls missed their mark http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/why-2016-election-polls-missed-their-mark/
  • Meyer, Ph. (2002). Surveys. In Precision Journalism. A reporter’s introduction to social science methods (pp. 99-130). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Morwitz, V., & Plusinzki, C. (1996). Do Polls Reflect Opinions or Do Opinions Reflect Polls? The Impact of Political Polling on Voters’ Expectations, Preferences, and Behavior . Journal of Consumer Research , 23, 53-67
  • Rasmussen Reports Daily: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/current_events/politics/prez_track_nov16
  • Silver, N. (2012). The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predictions fail- but some don’t. New York: The Penguin Press.