“Before you argue with someone, ask yourself, is that person mentally mature enough to grasp the concept of different perspectives? Because if no, there’s absolutely no point.” — Amber Veal
Unfortunately, the problem more often than not nowadays is not that the people arguing can’t grasp different perspectives — it’s that they have two vastly different perceptions of reality.
How do you argue with someone peddling “alternative facts”?
How do you reason with someone who scoffs at documented proof — fact-checked, peer-reviewed, scientifically proven, statistically verified — and insists that what some random person on the internet said is the truth?
It boggles the mind — and exhausts the soul and breaks the heart — that we can all live on this same planet, in this same state and in these same towns, and yet exist in completely separate realities.
We know how we got here: Misinformation is a pandemic all its own. And Republicans are its main victims.
We’ll lay out the statistics, from multiple studies, and ask our readers to set aside their confirmation bias for a little while. Here we go:
A forthcoming study (awaiting peer review) from NYU and the Université Grenoble Alpes in France found “news publishers known for putting out misinformation got six times the amount of likes, shares and interactions on the platform [Facebook] as did trustworthy news sources” between August 2020 and January 2021, as reported by The Washington Post.
Translation: Publishers posting misinformation, regardless of political slant, received more engagement (likes, shares, retweets, comments, etc.) than publishers posting factual information. The Washington Post highlights Occupy Democrats on the left and Breitbart and Bongino on the right as three popular misinformation disseminators.
That said, the study also found that right-leaning publishers had a “higher propensity” for sharing misinformation than any other political lean. Ben Shapiro’s The Daily Wire gets more engagement (likes, shares and comments) on Facebook than any other news publisher, according to statistics compiled by NPR. The Daily Wire has an undeniable right lean, but what makes its popularity concerning is its “mixed reliability” rating from both Ad Fontes Media (known for its Media Bias Chart) and Media Bias/Fact Check. Media Bias/Fact Check rates The Daily Wire’s reporting as questionable “due to the promotion of propaganda, conspiracy theories and numerous failed fact checks.”
A separate study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University’s School of Communications and distributed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science looked at social media engagement with 20 of “the most viral political news stories” from January to June 2019. Ten of those stories were true; 10 were false. The study came to the conclusion: “Conservatives tend to claim more falsehoods are true, while the number of truths believed is modestly lower. Similarly, conservatives’ sensitivity tends to be lower and their response bias higher.”
In this study, “sensitivity” is the “quantitative expression of an individual’s ability to discriminate true (signal) and false (noise) statements” and “response bias” is “an individual’s propensity to label all claims the same way … positive scores correspond to a tendency to distrust all claims.”
In plain English: The study found that conservatives were more likely to believe fiction over fact and more likely to look at a set of mixed true and false statements and say that all of them are false.
And a good bit of that could be because of individuals’ confirmation bias: Believing something is true because it supports what we already believe and believing something is “fake news” because it doesn’t support our position.
Why does all of this data single out conservatives? Because 65% of true statements presented in the study were “characterized as benefiting the political left, compared to only 10%” that benefited the right. It later explained, “Socially engaging truthful claims tended to favor the left, while engaging falsehoods disproportionately favored the right.”
All of this is not to say that conservatives are gullible or dumb. It’s to point out that conservatives in particular are targeted for and inundated with false information, and the publishers of that actual fake news do it largely because they know it will receive high engagement. More engagement means more profit.
There are two important lessons for everyone here, regardless of political affiliation: While social media can be a useful tool for accessing news, not every publisher on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, etc., is sharing factual information; and just because you agree with it doesn’t mean it’s true.