Melania Trump’s Slovenian parents become US citizens – BBC News
Melania Trump’s Slovenian parents become US citizens 9 August 2018 These are external links and will open in a new window Close share panel Image caption Amalija and Viktor Knavs were born in Slovenia and are in their 70s President Donald Trump’s parents-in-law have become US citizens in a private ceremony.
Viktor and Amalija Knavs, Melania Trump’s Slovenian-born parents, took the oath of citizenship in New York on Thursday, their lawyer confirmed.
He said the pair had been living in the US on green cards sponsored by Mrs Trump.
President Trump has railed against family-based or “chain” immigration in the past.
He argues instead for a merit-based system prioritising professionals over relatives, and has drawn criticism for his vocal attacks on immigration laws and immigrants. Report End of Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump
Melania Trump became a US citizen in 2006, after entering the US on a coveted Einstein visa for people of “extraordinary ability” in 2001 when she was working as a model.
Under US immigration law, Melania’s parents would need to have had green cards for at least five years before they could apply for citizenship.
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website, an average naturalisation application in New York takes between 11 and 21 months and is dependent on numerous character and residency requirements.
Their lawyer Michael Wildes – who attended the ceremony with them – told reporters outside they had met the five year condition but refused to give more details, according to the New York Times .
Mr Wildes called family-based migration “a bedrock of our immigration process”, and when asked if the pair had gained citizenship through the system reportedly replied, “I suppose”.
Viktor Knavs was a car salesman in the Slovenian town of Sevnica, while his wife Amalija worked at a textile factory. Both are in their 70s.
Their son-in-law has frequently attacked US immigration laws, calling them the “dumbest laws on immigration in the world”. Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Trump: Immigrant gangs ‘animals, not people’ Related Topics
White anxiety finds a home at Fox News
White anxiety finds a home at Fox News by Tom Kludt and Brian Stelter @CNNMoney August 9, 2018: 8:37 PM ET Fox News host addresses controversial comments It wasn’t so much a dog whistle as it was an airhorn. Or perhaps a primal scream. But whatever it was, Laura Ingraham’s forceful denunciation of “massive demographic changes” served as another raw example of a Fox News host echoing white nationalist language. Perhaps it was a glimpse into President Donald Trump’s well of support, too. The Fox News audience is almost 100% white, according to Nielsen. And on the channel’s highest-rated shows, the politics of white anxiety play out practically every day, as hosts and guests warn about the impacts of immigration and minimize or mock the perspectives of people of color. The talk show segments are clearly intended to appeal to people who perceive they are losing their grip on power.
In 2018, Tucker Carlson, at 8 p.m., and Ingraham, at 10 p.m., spend the most time on this subject. (The host in between, Sean Hannity, concentrates more on defending Trump.)
“The America we know and love doesn’t exist anymore,” Ingraham said Wednesday night. “Massive demographic changes have been foisted on the American people, and they are changes that none of us ever voted for, and most of us don’t like.”
Ingraham said “this is related to both illegal and legal immigration.”
The commentary was amplified on social media by the liberal, anti-Fox watchdog group Media Matters. Many people who viewed it on social media were shocked, as her rhetoric went beyond what other conservative commentators have said in the past.
Nearly 24 hours later, Ingraham’s name was still a top trending topic on Twitter. Media Matters made a video asserting that Ingraham’s “anti-immigrant rant” was “ripped from white supremacists.” Some Democratic lawmakers also spoke out. Senator Tammy Duckworth tweeted that the “racist” comments “shouldn’t have been aired by @FoxNews.”
Fox News declined to comment.
In a part of the commentary that didn’t circulate widely on social media, Ingraham said, “There is something slipping away in this country and it’s not about race or ethnicity. It’s what was once a common understanding by both parties that American citizenship is a privilege, and one that at a minimum requires respect for the rule of law and loyalty to our constitution.”
But Ingraham’s critics said her “not about race” line didn’t negate her inflammatory lament about “massive demographic changes.”
Fox declined CNN’s requests to interview Ingraham, Carlson or a network executive. Where are the Murdochs?
Fox’s opinion hosts tap into — and sympathize with — a deep vein of concern about cultural displacement. Whiteness under threat is a common theme, especially on Carlson’s show, during which he often laments the mistreatment of white people and the influx of foreigners.
Media Matters and other outspoken Trump critics have accused him of promoting white nationalist ideas, a charge he has repeatedly rejected.
Although some advertisers avoid some of Fox’s talk shows, citing various controversies, the shows are highly profitable for Fox and its parent company 21st Century Fox. Among the beneficiaries are Rupert Murdoch and his sons James and Lachlan, who jointly run the company.
Do the Murdochs encourage Fox’s prime time direction? Or do they hold their noses? That’s unclear, even to experts who follow the industry closely. In the past, the Murdochshave expressed opposition to Trump’s hardline immigration policies and rhetoric.
But Fox absolutely knows what its audience wants. It’s not exclusive to the network: Researchers say the anxieties of white Christian America have also fueled conservative talk radio and digital media. And Trump expertly tapped into the same thing with his speeches about restricting immigration and saying “Merry Christmas” again. Infamously, Trump decried immigrants from places in Africa and Latin America, which he described as ‘shithole countries.’
All of it relates to a supposed loss of cultural dominance among white people.
“When Ingraham talks about America not looking like the America it used to be, that does indicate a perceived lack of status,” said Andra Gillespie, a political science professor at Emory University. “And some people are motivated by a desire to regain that status.”
As Gillespie and others have noticed, Trump wasn’t penalized by voters for expressing racial anxieties that politicians previously would have avoided. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“It was exactly these kinds of fears about cultural change, cultural displacement and immigration that were the key drivers of support for President Trump,” said Robert P. Jones, the head of the Public Religion Research Institute.
Fox’s particular appeal to white Christian voters has been well documented for years. Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild, in her 2016 book “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right,” found that “Fox is family” for some Tea Party supporters in Louisiana.
“Fox News stokes fear,” Hochschild wrote. “And the fear seems to reflect that of the audience it most serves — white middle- and working-class people.”
Right now, the biggest fear among Fox viewers might be the changing face of America, or as Ingraham put it, “changing demographics.”
White supremacist websites express anger over the changes in far more hateful and hostile ways than anyone on television does.
But Fox is often perceived to be giving voice to those views.
Carlson himself seems perplexed by the white nationalist label; on his show last year, he said he didn’t “even know what ‘white nationalist’ means.”
But white nationalists are certainly familiar with Carlson. As Vox’s Carlos Maza detailed in a video that went viral last year, Carlson’s show has won praise from white nationalist Richard Spencer, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke and the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, which called the host its “greatest ally.”
Carlson has impressed those types with his repeated on-air complaints about immigrants and Muslims. In fact, Ingraham’s comments on Wednesday essentially echoed what Carlson has said on his own show. In March, Carlson commented on Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where the Hispanic population has grown exponentially since 2000, saying such demographic changes were “bewildering for people.” Behind Carlson was a graphic that read: “Changes in America.”
“That’s happening all over the country. No nation, no society has ever changed this much, this fast,” Carlson said. “Now before you start calling anyone bigoted, consider and be honest: how would you feel if that happened in your neighborhood?” Last month, Carlson went even further, saying that “Latin American countries are changing election outcomes here by forcing demographic change on this country, at a rate that American voters consistently say they don’t want.”
Carlson did not cite a source for that claim. Recent Gallup polls indicate an overwhelming majority of Americans — 75% — view immigration as a “good thing” for America. Obsessed with race?
One of Carlson’s most frequent critiques is that liberals are too obsessed with race, and too quick to make claims of “racism.” But that critique ends when it comes to purported racism against whites, as evidenced by his coverage last week of Sarah Jeong, an Asian-American journalist who will join the New York Times editorial board next month.
Jeong’s hiring generated a firestorm of controversy for a number of tweets in which she made disparaging comments about white people, for which Carlson called her “an angry bigot and not in a subtle way.” (Jeong called the comments “satire,” and said she regretted that she had “mimicked the language of my harassers.”)
Carlson also made theaccusation against a person of color last month, when he had University of Louisville professor Ricky Jones on his program. Carlson’s ire was drawn by a column that Jones had written, in which the professor considered whether it was right for the black 20th century writer James Baldwin to call white Americans “moral monsters.”
“As he did throughout his life, Baldwin raises difficult but necessary questions with which we must wrestle. Why are so many white Americans so brutally mean and inhumane?” Jones wrote. “Why do so many others feel comfortable justifying or excusing it? Why do others still, who claim ‘not to think that way,’ find it acceptable to say little and do even less? Make no mistake, there are certainly whites who stand in the tradition of William Lloyd Garrison, John Brown and others. However, reasonable people must admit they are the exceptions, not the rules.”
Carlson zeroed in on that second sentence — “Why are so many white Americans so brutally mean and inhumane?” — ignoring the rest and accusing Jones of “abetting racism.”
“Wouldn’t you say you’re a racist? As you clearly are,” Carlson said.
Jones, the chairman of the Pan-African Studies Department at Louisville, told CNN Thursday that the interview “went exactly as I thought it would go.”
Carlson “was not interested in having a legitimate conversation about race at all,” Jones said. “He was doing what he does every night. He was playing to racially insensitive sensibilities that have permeated that audience at Fox. They know the audience they’re playing to.”
And while many observers were stunned by Ingraham’s comments on Wednesday, Jones wasn’t one of them.
“That was jarring to some people, particularly white liberals,” he said. “That’s not jarring to black people who have any type of political consciousness. We’ve seen that type of behavior. We’ve lived that for a long time.”
The anxieties aren’t likely to fade away soon. Trump, Ingraham and Carlson all have foundan audience for their calls to return America to a mythical long, lost era. One such supporter rose to Ingraham’s defense on Wednesday night, calling her comments “one of the most important (truthful) monologues in the history” of the mainstream media.
It was David Duke. CNNMoney (New York) First published August 9, 2018: 8:37 PM ET Newsletter Big personalities. Big controversies. Big exclusives. Sign up for the tip sheet of the media industry, brought to you by Brian Stelter, Dylan Byers, and the best media team in the business. CNNMoney Sponsors
China mosque demolition sparks standoff in Ningxia – BBC News
China mosque demolition sparks standoff in Ningxia 10 August 2018 These are external links and will open in a new window Close share panel Image copyright Weibo Image caption The Weizhou mosque is a towering structure that features domes and minarets in a Middle Eastern style Hundreds of Muslims in north-western China are engaged in a standoff with authorities to prevent their mosque from being demolished.
Officials said the newly built Weizhou Grand Mosque in the Ningxia region had not been given proper building permits.
But worshippers refused to back down. One resident said they would not “let the government touch the mosque”.
China has a Muslim minority of some 23 million, and Islam has been prominent in Ningxia for centuries.
But human rights groups say there is increasing official hostility towards Muslims in China, and foreign religious influences in particular.
The mosque, which has several soaring minarets and domes, is built in a Middle Eastern style.
For centuries Hui Muslim mosques were built in a more Chinese style, and it appears that the new structure is viewed by the local government as an example of a growing Arabisation of Chinese Islam, the BBC’s China correspondent, Stephen McDonell, reports. How did the protests begin?
Officials had on 3 August posted a notice that the mosque would be “forcibly demolished” as it had not been granted the necessary planning and construction permits. End of Twitter post by @ismaelan
The notice was shared online among the ethnic Hui Muslim community, according to Reuters news agency.
Many questioned why the authorities had not stopped construction of the mosque, which took two years to complete, if it had not been granted relevant permits, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post newspaper.
Protests were held outside the mosque on Thursday and continued into Friday, say the reports. Pictures circulating on Chinese social media showed large crowds gathering outside the large white building. Risky road: China’s missionaries follow Beijing west
One resident said talks between the Hui community and the government had reached an impasse.
“We’re just in a standoff,” the resident, who withheld his name, told the Post. “The public won’t let the government touch the mosque, but the government is not backing down.” Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The Hui are one of China’s largest Muslim groups
However, an official from the local Islamic Association said that the mosque would not be demolished entirely. He told Reuters news agency the government only wanted the structure “renovated to reduce its scale”.
Later reports suggested that the authorities had agreed to remove eight domes.
But one of the protesters was quoted by the Associated Press news agency as saying that this proposal was unacceptable to the Muslim community.
The protester added that the mosque had been conducting prayers attended by thousands of people and had been built with donations from congregants.
There has been no comment so far in Chinese state media. Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Film shows Muslims in ‘unseen China’ Can you freely practise religion in China?
In theory, China’s constitution guarantees religious freedom but in practice religious activities remain tightly controlled by the government.
Christian churches, for example, have in the past been forced to remove crosses from their roofs, after the government said the symbol broke planning rules.
In recent years, the atheistic Chinese Communist Party has become particularly wary of foreign religious influences and authorities have embarked on a campaign to “sinicise religion” – ie make it more Chinese.
As part of that, they have targeted unofficial “house churches” connected to overseas missions where millions of Chinese Christians worship. Dismay as church crosses removed in China
While Hui Muslims have largely been well-integrated and left mostly free to practise their religion, they have watched as Uighur Muslims in the western Xinjiang region have faced growing government pressure.
Rights groups say citizens in Xinjiang are subject to increasingly intrusive methods of government surveillance and control, with many punished for “extremist” behaviour like wearing veils in public places, or refusing to watch public TV programmes.
Thousands of Uighurs are also believed to have been forcibly sent to “education camps”. According to Human Rights Watch, detainees are forced to renounce their ethnic and religious identities.
Child abuse inquiry: School ‘reputations put before victims’ – BBC News
Boy ‘abused’ by head of Catholic school
“Even after new procedures were introduced in 2001, when monks gave the appearance of co-operation and trust, their approach could be summarised as a ‘tell them nothing’ attitude.”
One former Downside pupil, who tried to speak out at the the time about his abuse said he was made to feel like a “sinner”.
“I was vulnerable, broken and needed help from the church when I was a child,” he said.
“I trusted them to help, but instead my life was destroyed and I was handed a life sentence of suffering by my abuser and those who failed to act against it.”
Perpetrators from the two schools who were convicted include Ampleforth teachers David Lowe and Piers Grant-Ferris and former Downside geography teacher Richard White, known as Father Nicholas. Image copyright PA Image caption Richard David White taught at Downside School in the 1980s
Lowe, who also taught at Westminster Cathedral Choir School, was convicted of assaulting boys aged from eight to 13 between 1978 and 1984.
He was jailed in 2015 for 10 years.
The inquiry heard that when abuse committed by White came to light he was moved from the junior to the senior school where he was given the role of housemaster to his first victim.
The report said: “The abuse of a second victim could have been prevented if the abbot and the headmaster had referred the first abuse to the police and social services.”
White was jailed in 2012 for five years. Image copyright PA Image caption Prof Alexis Jay was appointed in 2016 and is the fourth person to chair the inquiry
The inquiry heard both institutions were “hostile” to the recommendations of the Nolan report, taking the view its implementation was “neither obligatory nor desirable”.
“For much of the time under consideration by the inquiry, the overriding concern in both Ampleforth and Downside was to avoid contact with the local authority or the police at all costs, regardless of the seriousness of the alleged abuse or actual knowledge of its occurrence,” it said.
The inquiry also heard that in about 2012 then headmaster of Downside, Dom Leo Maidlow Davies, burned wheelbarrows full of files from the school.
The report said while it was “impossible to say” what information was in the documents “it adds to the perception of a cover-up on the part of Downside”.
It said a “strict separation” between the governance of the school and the abbey was needed in order to safeguard pupils in future and while Ampleforth had taken steps to do just that Downside still had not.
LBC radio presenter James O’Brien, who was a pupil at Ampleforth, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One the monks wielded a “secular and spiritual power” that could have played a part in the abuse being hidden for so long. Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Pupils at Downside School pay up to £11,000 per term
Both Downside and Ampleforth have issued statements apologising to the victims.
“The Abbey and School fully acknowledges the serious failings and mistakes made in both protecting those within our care and responding to safeguarding concerns,” a Downside spokesman said.
“We have reflected deeply and will continue to listen with the ear of the heart going forward to ensure that the mistakes of the past are never repeated.”
A spokesman for Ampleforth said it had publicly accepted responsibility for “past failings on many occasions”.
“The Ampleforth of today has never been afraid to learn difficult lessons,” he said.
“We remain completely focused on the safety and wellbeing of those entrusted to our care and our commitment to implement meaningful change.”
Father Christopher Jamison, Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, said the report highlighted “how flawed many of our past responses have been”.
He said: “Once again I apologise unequivocally to all those who were abused by any person connected with our abbeys and schools.” ‘Devastating indictment’
Richard Scorer, a lawyer from Slater and Gordon who represented victims from both schools at the inquiry, said: “The abhorrent and disgraceful abuse in the Catholic Church has once again been laid bare by this inquiry.
“This familiar and shameful story of cover-up has been told time and time again, and is a devastating indictment of an organisation guilty of gross failures on child protection.
“It is clear the Catholic Church is woefully incapable of policing itself.
“That is why we urgently need a mandatory reporting law to prevent the perpetuation of the abuse of vulnerable children.”
Asked if he thought institutions like Ampleforth and Downside could continue in the wake of the report, the inquiry’s secretary John O’Brien said: “You’re not going to survive if you don’t recognise that you need to change.
“From where I sit right now we’ve heard no evidence that those changes are happening, even now we still don’t have separation of the governance at Downside.” Related Topics
How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News
By Katy Steinmetz August 9, 2018
Sitting in front of a computer not long ago, a tenured history professor faced a challenge that billions of us do every day: deciding whether to believe something on the Internet.
On his screen was an article published by a group called the American College of Pediatricians that discussed how to handle bullying in schools. Among the advice it offered: schools shouldn’t highlight particular groups targeted by bullying because doing so might call attention to “temporarily confused adolescents.”
Scanning the site, the professor took note of the “.org” web address and a list of academic-looking citations. The site’s sober design, devoid of flashy, autoplaying videos, lent it credibility, he thought. After five minutes, he had found little reason to doubt the article. “I’m clearly looking at an official site,” he said.
What the professor never realized as he focused on the page’s superficial features is that the group in question is a socially conservative splinter faction that broke in 2002 from the mainstream American Academy of Pediatrics over the issue of adoption by same-sex couples. It has been accused of promoting antigay policies, and the Southern Poverty Law Center designates it as a hate group.
Trust was the issue at hand. The bookish professor had been asked to assess the article as part of an experiment run by Stanford University psychologist Sam Wineburg. His team, known as the Stanford History Education Group, has given scores of subjects such tasks in hopes of answering two of the most vexing questions of the Internet age: Why are even the smartest among us so bad at making judgments about what to trust on the web? And how can we get better?
Wineburg’s team has found that Americans of all ages, from digitally savvy tweens to high-IQ academics, fail to ask important questions about content they encounter on a browser, adding to research on our online gullibility. Other studies have shown that people retweet links without clicking on them and rely too much on search engines. A 2016 Pew poll found that nearly a quarter of Americans said they had shared a made-up news story. In his experiments, MIT cognitive scientist David Rand has found that, on average, people are inclined to believe false news at least 20% of the time. “We are all driving cars, but none of us have licenses,” Wineburg says of consuming information online.
Our inability to parse truth from fiction on the Internet is, of course, more than an academic matter. The scourge of “fake news” and its many cousins–from clickbait to “deep fakes” (realistic-looking videos showing events that never happened)–have experts fearful for the future of democracy. Politicians and technologists have warned that meddlers are trying to manipulate elections around the globe by spreading disinformation. That’s what Russian agents did in 2016, according to U.S. intelligence agencies. And on July 31, Facebook revealed that it had found evidence of a political-influence campaign on the platform ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. The authors of one now defunct page got thousands of people to express interest in attending a made-up protest that apparently aimed to put white nationalists and left-wingers on the same streets.
But the stakes are even bigger than elections. Our ability to vet information matters every time a mother asks Google whether her child should be vaccinated and every time a kid encounters a Holocaust denial on Twitter. In India, false rumors about child kidnappings that spread on WhatsApp have prompted mobs to beat innocent people to death. “It’s the equivalent of a public-health crisis,” says Alan Miller, founder of the nonpartisan News Literacy Project.
There is no quick fix, though tech companies are under increasing pressure to come up with solutions. Facebook lost more than $120 billion in stock value in a single day in July as the company dealt with a range of issues limiting its growth, including criticism about how conspiracy theories spread on the platform. But engineers can’t teach machines to decide what is true or false in a world where humans often don’t agree.
In a country founded on free speech, debates over who adjudicates truth and lies online are contentious. Many welcomed the decision by major tech companies in early August to remove content from florid conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has alleged that passenger-jet contrails are damaging people’s brains and spread claims that families of Sandy Hook massacre victims are actors in an elaborate hoax. But others cried censorship. And even if law enforcement and intelligence agencies could ferret out every bad actor with a keyboard, it seems unwise to put the government in charge of scrubbing the Internet of misleading statements.
What is clear, however, is that there is another responsible party. The problem is not just malicious bots or chaos-loving trolls or Macedonian teenagers pushing phony stories for profit. The problem is also us, the susceptible readers. And experts like Wineburg believe that the better we understand the way we think in the digital world, the better chance we have to be part of the solution.
We don’t fall for false news just because we’re dumb. Often it’s a matter of letting the wrong impulses take over. In an era when the average American spends 24 hours each week online–when we’re always juggling inboxes and feeds and alerts–it’s easy to feel like we don’t have time to read anything but headlines. We are social animals, and the desire for likes can supersede a latent feeling that a story seems dicey. Political convictions lead us to lazy thinking. But there’s an even more fundamental impulse at play: our innate desire for an easy answer.
Humans like to think of themselves as rational creatures, but much of the time we are guided by emotional and irrational thinking. Psychologists have shown this through the study of cognitive shortcuts known as heuristics. It’s hard to imagine getting through so much as a trip to the grocery store without these helpful time-savers. “You don’t and can’t take the time and energy to examine and compare every brand of yogurt,” says Wray Herbert, author of On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits. So we might instead rely on what is known as the familiarity heuristic, our tendency to assume that if something is familiar, it must be good and safe.
These habits of mind surely helped our ancestors survive. The problem is that relying on them too much can also lead people astray, particularly in an online environment. In one of his experiments, MIT’s Rand illustrated the dark side of the fluency heuristic, our tendency to believe things we’ve been exposed to in the past. The study presented subjects with headlines–some false, some true–in a format identical to what users see on Facebook. Rand found that simply being exposed to fake news (like an article that claimed President Trump was going to brink back the draft) made people more likely to rate those stories as accurate later on in the experiment. If you’ve seen something before, “your brain subconsciously uses that as an indication that it’s true,” Rand says.
This is a tendency that propagandists have been aware of forever. The difference is that it has never been easier to get eyeballs on the message, nor to get enemies of the message to help spread it. The researchers who conducted the Pew poll noted that one reason people knowingly share made-up news is to “call out” the stories as fake. That might make a post popular among like-minded peers on social media, but it can also help false claims sink into the collective consciousness.
Academics are only beginning to grasp all the ways our brains are shaped by the Internet, a key reason that stopping the spread of misinformation is so tricky. One attempt by Facebook shows how introducing new signals into this busy domain can backfire. With hopes of curtailing junk news, the company started attaching warnings to posts that contained claims that fact-checkers had rated as false. But a study found that this can make users more likely to believe any unflagged post. Tessa Lyons-Laing, a product manager who works on Facebook’s News Feed, says the company toyed with the idea of alerting users to hoaxes that were traveling around the web each day before realizing that an “immunization approach” might be counterproductive. “We’re really trying to understand the problem and to be thoughtful about the research and therefore, in some cases, to move slower,” she says.
Part of the issue is that people are still relying on outdated shortcuts, the kind we were taught to use in a library. Take the professor in Wineburg’s study. A list of citations means one thing when it appears in a book that has been vetted by a publisher, a fact-checker and a librarian. It means quite another on the Internet, where everyone has access to a personal printing press. Newspapers used to physically separate hard news and commentary, so our minds could easily grasp what was what. But today two-thirds of Americans get news from social media, where posts from publishers get the same packaging as birthday greetings and rants. Content that warrants an emotional response is mixed with things that require deeper consideration. “It all looks identical,” says Harvard researcher Claire Wardle, “so our brain has to work harder to make sense of those different types of information.”
Instead of working harder, we often try to outsource the job. Studies have shown that people assume that the higher something appears in Google search results, the more reliable it is. But Google’s algorithms are surfacing content based on keywords, not truth. If you ask about using apricot seeds to cure cancer, the tool will dutifully find pages asserting that they work. “A search engine is a search engine,” says Richard Gingras, vice president of news at Google. “I don’t think anyone really wants Google to be the arbiter of what is or is not acceptable expression.”
That’s just one example of how we need to retrain our brains. We’re also inclined to trust visuals, says Wardle. But some photos are doctored, and other legitimate ones are put in false contexts. On Twitter, people use the size of others’ followings as a proxy for reliability, yet millions of followers have been paid for (and an estimated 10% of “users” may be bots). In his studies, Wineburg found that people of all ages were inclined to evaluate sources based on features like the site’s URL and graphic design, things that are easy to manipulate.
It makes sense that humans would glom on to just about anything when they’re so worn out by the news. But when we resist snap judgments, we are harder to fool. “You just have to stop and think,” Rand says of the experiments he has run on the subject. “All of the data we have collected suggests that’s the real problem. It’s not that people are being super-biased and using their reasoning ability to trick themselves into believing crazy stuff. It’s just that people aren’t stopping. They’re rolling on.”
That is, of course, the way social-media platforms have been designed. The endless feeds and intermittent rewards are engineered to keep you reading. And there are other environmental factors at play, like people’s ability to easily seek out information that confirms their beliefs. But Rand is not the only academic who believes that we can take a big bite out of errors if we slow down.
Wineburg, an 18-year veteran of Stanford, works out of a small office in the center of the palm-lined campus. His group’s specialty is developing curricula that teachers across the nation use to train kids in critical thinking. Now they’re trying to update those lessons for life in a digital age. With the help of funding from Google, which has devoted $3 million to the digital-literacy project they are part of, the researchers hope to deploy new rules of the road by next year, outlining techniques that anyone can use to draw better conclusions on the web.
His group doesn’t just come up with smart ideas; it tests them. But as they set out to develop these lessons, they struggled to find research about best practices. “Where are the studies about what superstars do, so that we might learn from them?” Wineburg recalls thinking, sitting in the team’s office beneath a print of the Tabula Rogeriana, a medieval map that pictures the world in a way we now see as upside-down. Eventually, a cold email to an office in New York revealed a promising model: professional fact-checkers.
Fact-checkers, they found, didn’t fall prey to the same missteps as other groups. When presented with the American College of Pediatricians task, for example, they almost immediately left the site and started opening new tabs to see what the wider web had to say about the organization. Wineburg has dubbed this lateral reading: if a person never leaves a site–as the professor failed to do–they are essentially wearing blinders. Fact-checkers not only zipped to additional sources, but also laid their references side by side, to better keep their bearings.
In another test, the researchers asked subjects to assess the website MinimumWage.com. In a few minutes’ time, 100% of fact-checkers figured out that the site is backed by a PR firm that also represents the restaurant industry, a sector that generally opposes raising hourly pay. Only 60% of historians and 40% of Stanford students made the same discovery, often requiring a second prompt to find out who was behind the site.
Another tactic fact-checkers used that others didn’t is what Wineburg calls “click restraint.” They would scan a whole page of search results–maybe even two–before choosing a path forward. “It’s the ability to stand back and get a sense of the overall territory in which you’ve landed,” he says, “rather than promiscuously clicking on the first thing.” This is important, because people or organizations with an agenda can game search results by packing their sites with keywords, so that those sites rise to the top and more objective assessments get buried.
The lessons they’ve developed include such techniques and teach kids to always start with the same question: Who is behind the information? Although it is still experimenting, a pilot that Wineburg’s team conducted at a college in California this past spring showed that such tiny behavioral changes can yield significant results. Another technique he champions is simpler still: just read it.
One study found that 6 in 10 links get retweeted without users’ reading anything besides someone else’s summation of it. Another found that false stories travel six times as fast as true ones on Twitter, apparently because lies do a better job of stimulating feelings of surprise and disgust. But taking a beat can help us avoid knee-jerk reactions, so that we don’t blindly add garbage to the vast flotillas already clogging up the web. “What makes the false or hyperpartisan claims do really well is they’re a bit outlandish,” Rand says. “That same thing that makes them successful in spreading online is the same thing that, on reflection, would make you realize it wasn’t true.”
Tech companies have a big role to play in stemming the tide of misinformation, and they’re working on it. But they have also realized that what Harvard’s Wardle calls our “information disorder” cannot be solved by engineers alone. Algorithms are good at things like identifying fake accounts, and platforms are flagging millions of them every week. Yet machines could only take Facebook so far in identifying the most recent influence campaign.
One inauthentic page, titled “Resisters,” ginned up a counterprotest to a “white civil rights” rally planned for August in Washington, D.C., and got legitimate organizations to help promote it. More than 2,600 people expressed interest in going before Facebook revealed that the page was part of a coordinated operation, disabled the event and alerted users. The company has hired thousands of content reviewers that have the sophistication to weed through tricky mixes of truth and lies. But Facebook can’t employ enough humans to manually review the billions of posts that are put up each day, across myriad countries and languages.
Many misleading posts don’t violate tech companies’ terms of service. Facebook, one of the firms that removed content from Jones, said the decision did not relate to “false news” but prohibitions against rhetoric such as “dehumanizing language.” Apple and Spotify cited rules against hate speech, which is generally protected by the First Amendment. “With free expression, you get the good and the bad, and you have to accept both,” says Google’s Gingras. “And hopefully you have a society that can distinguish between the two.”
You also need a society that cares about that distinction. Schools make sense as an answer, but it will take money and political will to get new curricula into classrooms. Teachers must master new material and train students to be skeptical without making them cynical. “Once you start getting kids to question information,” says Stanford’s Sarah McGrew, “they can fall into this attitude where nothing is reliable anymore.” Advocates want to teach kids other defensive skills, like how to reverse-search an image (to make sure a photo is really portraying what someone says it is) and how to type a neutral query into the search bar. But even if the perfect lessons are dispersed for free online, anyone who has already graduated will need to opt in. They will have to take initiative and also be willing to question their prejudices, to second-guess information they might like to believe. And relying on open-mindedness to defeat tribal tendencies has not proved a winning formula in past searches for truth.
That is why many advocates are suggesting that we reach for another powerful tool: shame. Wardle says we need to make sharing misinformation as shameful as drunk driving. Wineburg invokes the environmental movement, saying we need to cultivate an awareness of “digital pollution” on the Internet. “We have to get people to think that they are littering,” Wineburg says, “by forwarding stuff that isn’t true.” The idea is to make people see the aggregate effect of little actions, that one by one, ill-advised clicks contribute to the web’s being a toxic place. Having a well-informed citizenry may be, in the big picture, as important to survival as having clean air and water. “If we can’t come together as a society around this issue,” Wineburg says, “it is our doom.”
This appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of TIME. SPONSORED FINANCIAL CONTENT