How to Spot FAKE News and What to Do About It
In this podcast, an interview with Nolan Higdon, author of The Anatomy of Fake News.
Matt interviews Author Nolan Higdon about his recent book, The Anatomy of FAKE News: A Critical News Literacy Education. In a lively discussion, Nolan covers the historical roots of fake news (further back than you might imagine) and the features of fake news that make it so dangerous.
Not only does the podcast examine the factors and developments of fake news, but we review aspects of Higdon’s detection kit and solutions that he offers for the reader.
An essential component of democracy is an informed citizenry. Arming yourself to detect and stop fake news is a personal action that you can take right now. People are both the cause and the cure for combating fake news.
More than ever, Digital Media Literacy is essential in building and maintaining a civil society through civil discourse. Developing these skills is critical for our future. Unfortunately, technology and media are developing and innovating at a far faster pace than people can follow and learn. The long-term effects of social media and digital media are just starting to be recognized, and many of those effects are not healthy.
Find More from Nolan Higdon:
Host of Along The Line Podcast
Author of The Anatomy of Fake News: A Critical News Education
Co-Author of United States of Distraction: Media Manipulation in Post-Truth America (And What We Can Do About It) (2019)
[00:00:00] Nolan Higdon: Again, this goes back to the conversation about how we need to re-establish the purpose of news is for democracy that we rarely think about why we’re reading the news, um, in the first place. If you’re reading the news because you want to be more informed to help your democracy, let’s do it the right way.
If you’re simply looking at the headline because you want to share it, then you’re more than like, you’re better, um, described as a fake news disseminator. So, I think you need to make a decision about what you want to be and what you want to do.
[00:00:32] Bumper Intro-Outro: Welcome to Endless Coffee Cup, a regular discussion of marketing news, culture, and media for our complex digital lifestyle. Join Matt Bailey as he engages in conversation to find insights beyond the latest headlines and deeper understanding for those involved in marketing. Grab a cup of coffee, have a seat, and thanks for joining.
[00:00:55] Matt Bailey: Hey everyone. Thanks for joining me again on the Endless Coffee Cup podcast. And I’m really excited about today because if you’ve listened to any of the previous podcasts, you’ll know that digital literacy is something that I’m very passionate about. And so, when I was contacted about a new book on the market and the potential of interviewing the author, Nolan Higdon, uh, his book is “The Anatomy of Fake News,” and Nolan, looking at your background, this is not something that’s new to you.
[00:01:28] Nolan Higdon: No, yeah, I’ve been studying, um, you know, fake news or false or misleading news content, um, for about a, a decade now. And, um, that was kind of the weird, um, the weird space I found myself in during the, uh, 2016 election. On the one hand, I knew, um, Donald Trump was weaponizing the phrase “Fake News” for his own purposes, but on the other hand, he was, uh, making it popular to talk about something I’d been studying for 10 years. So, I was simultaneously dismayed yet excited for the opportunity to, to talk about fake news.
[00:02:02] Matt Bailey: I could see that. And, and that’s one thing about your book that I really enjoyed was that you went back into history and show that this is not anything new. It, it has its roots, I, I think you went back a thousand years, uh, I think in history, um, looking at some of the earliest documentation that we have. Uh, you know, it fascinated me, you know, just to go back to Christopher Columbus and how he reported what he saw, and how it wasn’t the truth. And so, it’s been with us.
[00:02:34] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, and I want to give, um, you know, I thought it was important for that historical context because there is so much conversation focused on, um, the internet, and Russians, and Donald Trump and, you know, wanted to point out that if you really want to address this problem, you need to understand that it has a much longer history and there are way more actors and players than that short list. And so, we have to understand who’s behind the problem and what the problem is before we can actually address it.
[00:02:59] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. And that’s where your premise of the book, I think, is straightforward. You repeat it a few times, but the only effective means of combating fake news are critical thinking skills.
[00:03:15] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. Um, I’m, I’m, you know, a lot of, uh, well-meaning people in industry and in governments, um, and elsewhere are trying to come up with solutions to combat fake news, and I go through those solutions. Um, but a lot of them don’t really understand that the problem with fake news and then they tend to exacerbate the problem. And then some of the very people who are, uh, being asked to solve this problem are actually either profiting, uh, politically or economically from the production dissemination of fake news, which makes their whole approach kind of questionable.
[00:03:46] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Yes. Yeah. That, and, and being, so, my background is in journalism and then I ended up in marketing and so, watching the evolution of journalism from a primarily, you know, television, magazine, radio, to now internet, where they can monetize a page rather than selling advertising that supports the business, that has transformed journalism.
So that, now we can, if we have a story, as you say, as it goes viral or a story that gets a lot of page views, that story creates more revenue. And so, automatically there’s a question of, “Well, what are we trying to satisfy here? We trying to satisfy corporate stakeholders, or we trying to create an accurate representation of the news?” And so, right away, you’ve got an immediate ethics problem.
[00:04:46] Nolan Higdon: Absolutely. Uh, and, you know, that’s a, a sort of a central premise of the book is that there’s a lot of great journalists out there who mean, uh, have good intentions and, and want to do the job of journalism in a democracy. But, um, there’s a lot of incentives to get them to report kind of trivial BS very quickly, um, to keep their employment.
And, you know, I always tell my students, I teach journalism, as well, that, um, you know, a lot of those more wonky stories are way more important to people’s lives, but they’re sort of difficult to report on and difficult to understand. Um, so you have to kind of make the time to, to simplify and explain, where I think a lot of journalists are just ignoring those stories and saying, “Let’s cover Donald Trump’s tweets and how, um, you know, offensive it is and to which groups it’s offensive to. Let’s talk about that for 24 hours.” But, you know, it’d be great once every blue moon, but when it’s every single day, um, it doesn’t really do anything in terms of kitchen table issues and things like that.
[00:05:41] Matt Bailey: Well, you bring up a good point, and it doesn’t really take much research to see that Donald Trump has been good for business beyond anything else.
[00:05:50] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. And, um, you know, it’s funny when you, I guess we ask people questions, what they’ll say, but, um, let’s move as, uh, CBS has more or less noted this, Jeff Zucker, um, noted, uh, noted it from CNN, and they said that, yeah, the Trump years have been pretty good for, for ratings. A lot of people in media position themselves the so-called resistance has been good for ratings.
Um, my concern is not necessarily the political implications, uh, in the book, but people are getting news in that process so they, they sort of set up this, um, you know, world wrestling, uh, entertainment mentality. This, there’s a guy named Eric Bischoff, Eric Bischoff, who used to work in…
[00:06:27] Matt Bailey: Yes. Yes.
[00:06:27] Nolan Higdon: …World Championship Wrestling. And he, he said this years ago, he said, “When I watch the news, they’re doing what I used to do in wrestling. Like, they’re creating good guys and bad guys and storylines that keep you hooked and tuned in, but none of it’s real. It’s, it’s all sort of just infotainment.”
[00:06:41] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Oh my goodness, yeah. I, I grew up watching a lot of that, so it makes so much sense. Absolutely.
[00:06:49] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, I got to tell you, I do, I do so many of these, um, these podcast interviews and, um, I used Bischoff’s analogy there and I find there’s so many of us, uh, former wrestling fans out there in the media world, so that’s good, good to know.
[00:07:03] Matt Bailey: It is. It’s, it’s, you know, it’s one of those things that it, it just stays with you for life. I mean, I, I, and, yeah. Okay. We could talk about that all day, I think.
[00:07:12] Nolan Higdon: Absolutely.
[00:07:14] Matt Bailey: Yeah. Um, one of the things that, I, I, and, you know, this, we kind of covered that with Trump and it’s like an everyday thing. I mean, it really wears people down. I mean, especially now when you’ve got, uh, you know, wildfires, you’ve got the election, you’ve got COVID, I think, and, and maybe you’ve experienced as well, people are just emotionally drained, but yet, they can’t stop paying attention to the news or articles or things that show up in their social streams.
[00:07:47] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. Um, we’re seeing, you know, this, these levels of, um, despair and, and people just taking intellectual shortcuts because they’re, they’re so exhausted. Um, now it’s basically, if Trump’s, you know, if you’re a Democrat and Trump’s for it, you’re against it. And if you’re a Trump supporter, he says it, then it must be true.
Um, and people aren’t really sort of digging deeper, thinking deeper when it comes to a lot of these issues. And I think that has much to do of a hyperpartisan, um, culture, as much as it does with people just being simply exhausted, um, from the last, uh, four years, for sure.
[00:08:21] Matt Bailey: Well, what is it about fake news that makes it, I guess, so easy to fall for?
[00:08:29] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. I mean, you know, traditionally fake news is usually, um, constructed in a way that’s meant to elicit some sort of response. Um, so you’d probably be even like, Columbus’ reaction. Columbus was trying to elicit a response from the monarchy that he had found this new world and found all this wealth and that he should be recognized as a hero in that sense. But what’s, that’s sort of been the traditional way, and we’ve had governments who have done this, uh, members of news media, quite frankly, have done this. It’s been individuals like Jayson Blair or bigger media narratives, like the drive up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Um, and then of course, you know, um, the, the big game changer, though, was the internet. The internet was a game changer in my opinion of fake news. I was trying to stay away from assuming that we’re living in a historical time ’cause I feel like every generation does that, but I, I do think the evidence is there to say that the internet was a major game changer in the way that we, uh, take in information.
[00:09:24] Matt Bailey: Absolutely, yeah.
[00:09:25] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. And now we’re, um, you know, not just encountering fake news, like we always have throughout history, but it’s customized in a way with, um, algorithmic insights to our behaviors, our attitudes, and it’s customized in a way to elicit a response from us as an individual. And that’s a much more, um, powerful tool ’cause before the fake news, producers kind of had to guess, um, you know, what you would respond to and what you wouldn’t. Now in the internet age, they have a lot of data to inform that decision that simply didn’t exist in previous generations.
[00:09:55] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. That’s, a lot of the conversations I have with people who, I, I would say are kind of on the outside of this, like we’ll bring up Cambridge Analytica, and when I tell them that, “Do, you do realize that Cambridge Analytica didn’t change anyone’s vote? All they did was reinforce the people who already had strong opinions and then leverage off of them to reach others.”
[00:10:00] And, and they’re surprised by that because they, for some reason, the narrative that they’ve accepted is that people were brainwashed or, uh, they changed their vote or they changed their mind about something, rather than as you said, algorithmically, they already knew where you were. They just reinforced those attitudes.
[00:10:41] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, and this is a, um, you know, this, this may change in 2020, what I’m about to say, but at least as far as 2016 is concerned, um, all of the, uh, evidence we have, and this isn’t just my research with Bankler, and other people have done this, as well, um, television news was more influential in shaping people’s electoral decisions than the internet in 2016.
Um, now, uh, that could change in 2020 because millennials will be the biggest part of the voting bloc in 2020, and, and they tend to use internet news more than television news. But, um, I think what happened was old, so-called older, traditional media, like broadcast media, they’re watching their viewership go down, um, they’re getting less ratings, and they kind of blamed everything on the internet as a fix-all. And I think that’s why you hear that narrative so much. Everyone assumes the internet was behind the 2016 election outcome.
Um, but I, I think it’s a little more complicated than that. Um, and as you point out with Cambridge Analytica, if, if they know your behaviors and attitudes, what they can do is, um, radicalize or ramp you up so much that then you do vote for people who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have voted. Um, and this is what Facebook reports it did in, in 2018, right? It said that, um, it changed its algorithms, and it feels confident that it, uh, ended up having more people vote than would have not voted without their efforts. Um, which sounds to me sounds like a good thing, more people voting, but, but…
[00:12:06] Matt Bailey: At first it does. Yeah.
[00:12:08] Nolan Higdon: Right? Yeah. But like, a company, you know, kind of having the influence of whether or not someone does or doesn’t vote is pretty scary in my opinion.
[00:12:14] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Absolutely. And, and as you pointed out in the book, there is this mentality among, you know, especially Facebook, but some of these techno companies that there’s a devaluation of education and a priority of technology. And, and I thought that was very interesting and how you separated those attitudes and how that then shows how Facebook makes their decisions. That they believe technology’s the answer and they can do everything with an algorithm.
[00:12:49] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, it’s, uh, it’s, you know, one of the sort of strangest, uh, kind of conversations we see happening nationally. I mean, Mark Zuckerberg has sort of positioned himself as the savior of democracy and the captain of socializing. Um, and it’s not really clear what skills or perspectives he has to, to do that, um, nor has he shown any demonstration that he’s actually strengthened democracy or our, uh, communication skills.
In fact, if you look around in 2020 in the United States of America, even witholding the, uh, pandemic lockdown, um, there seems to be much less communication, um, and politics seems to be at the worst. I mean, the polls are showing right now, but regardless of who’s, who you’re voting for, your decision is based more likely on who you’re voting against rather than what you’re voting for, and that’s not a good sign in a democracy.
[00:13:37] Matt Bailey: No, not at all. I, I, yeah, this is what? The second election where both candidates have below, uh, you know, negative approval rating and, uh, below 50% approval. And, uh, yeah. And one thing that I, I notice so much is it, it’s more conversation in memes rather than actual data and information. It, it’s almost like a meme fight that’s going on and you really have to put up this gauntlet of, you know, protection in, in order not to fall into these, these meme battles that are going on.
[00:14:17] Nolan Higdon: I, I couldn’t agree more. Uh, one of the, the things that, um, you know, really concerns me and I’m working on a, a separate project on this right now, is that we’ve become really comfortable in just assuming that the “other side” is unreachable or not worth our time. So, we throw like these, these mean insults at them, um, but we never really try and engage with them or meet people where they’re at. We just assume they’re like lost, like 50% of the population is lost forever. Um, that’s pretty dangerous, you know, in a democracy we have to have communication and we can agree to disagree, but we, we can’t just sort of put people in boxes and pretend like they’re beyond the pale.
[00:14:54] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. I, you know, and there’s words that are used by each side, and you make a great point of this in the book that when you start using words to describe them, all, you’re dehumanizing that. You’re dehumanizing the group, you’re dehumanizing their opinion, and that plays into fake news.
[00:15:16] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. Uh, one of the main themes I found as I look through this history of fake news, um, was that a lot of fake news is aimed at dehumanizing individuals and groups. And, um, you know, there’s a long history of this against, uh, Native Americans and African-Americans, and, and even, um, women, as well, um, that I found throughout, uh, the history of fake news. And that’s why I think in our, our political discourse, uh, we should be cautious when we see content that dehumanizes anyone, even our, our worst enemy.
Um, we should recognize that if you allow anybody to be dehumanized, you open up the gates for everyone to be dehumanized. Um, and so, it’s, it’s, it’s tough. I mean, you know, it’s tough for me to think that, um, you know, like, I could love Donald Trump, but I, but I try to love him as a person, not as a, not as, like, an actor, if I could act, like, as a human being, right? Uh, I try and find that human being in him.
Uh, I, I think that that’s a strong step we can all sort of take, um, that fake news really tries to get us to do the opposite of. Fake news tries to get us to, to see whole swaths of people as inhuman. And then it justifies doing anything to them because they’re not humans now, then they’re objects, right? And nobody cries when an object, if I drop a pen on the ground, nobody’s going to cry. So, you start seeing these humans as an, an object and it makes it easier to do things like go to war, commit genocide, death camps. Some of these are the, the outcomes of fake news that dehumanizes groups.
[00:16:38] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. And, and that’s, you know, but also, I look at, uh, you, you know, even just in your own neighborhood, uh, you know, using the words libtard, or fascist, you know, you do that online maybe not even knowing your neighbor could fall into that group. And now you’ve dehumanized them to the point where, and, and we’ve seen this, as well, where people can justify violence because they believe they’re protecting themselves or protecting society.
Uh, you know, and just, I, I, that’s one thing I’ve been training my, my kids is, “You see any of these trigger words, immediately, you know, someone’s got an agenda and they’re trying to get you emotionally involved.”
[00:17:21] Nolan Higdon: Absolutely, uh, yeah. Those, you know, emotions tend to be reactive. So, if you have, um, content or as you play on words like that, but they can, um, draw those emotions, and you can get folks to do things they, they otherwise wouldn’t do. And, um, you know, even, even words like, um, fascism, you know, I’ve researched fascism for a lot and I, I don’t think it’s an ideology that has disappeared, but we should be cautious because we don’t want to overuse that word. We want to make sure we use it when it’s needed and don’t overuse it before it is.
You know, so those, those kinds of things, I think, are, are things that could serve, um, democracies well, and, you know, part of the way that fascist regimes have survived historically is they’ve been able to dehumanize some group. Um, and so, just, like you said, it starts through language, um, but then it gets into practice and all of a sudden, otherwise rational people are legitimizing violence and murder against groups.
[00:18:16] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. What even, and, and you make a great point when you were talking about, uh, uh, you, you pointed to a study of middle-schoolers where less than 1/5 can distinguish news from sponsored, which I, I, I look at that, I’m like, “Well, that’s not just middle-schoolers.”
I, I’m seeing huge swaths of the population that cannot distinguish news from the sponsored, uh, bait at the bottom of the page. Uh, but also less than 1/3 can identify implicit bias. And, you know, I’ve got teenage kids and one of my young teenage daughters, uh, was reading an article and she was angry for about two days. And finally, she let me, you know, she let me in on it, and she had read an article and it was about abortion, and she was so infuriated that she did not even, she didn’t want to talk, she didn’t want to deal with things.
[00:20:00] And we finally sat down and looked at the article and I pointed out, “Look at the language that they’re using to describe their opponents. Look at, uh, the emotion that you’re feeling because of these words.” And I’ll tell you what, that was probably one of the most helpful experiences in our communication together, but also, now she’s reading things differently. She also came to me about a month ago and she wants to learn rhetoric because they’re not going to teach it in school. So, she wants to learn those things. Um, but wow, what a story can do just through the words that it uses to dehumanize opposition, but then also emotionally manipulate us rather than give us facts.
[00:20:08] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. Um, and this is, you know, your, your story there about, um, your, your daughter kind of, um, strikes with a larger case I’m trying to make in the, in the book, which is that we, we really need to treat, um, the studying of news as central to our education system. And the reason why is because we do want to live in a democracy. And I think in the last 40 years, we’ve kind of convinced ourselves that we’re a capitalist nation and that’s everything, all tools need to be to serve capitalism.
And there’s a debate there to be had, but I always look at the United States as being defined more about democracy, and I think we should centralize democracy over anything else, including in our, our education system. Um, and what that means is, you know, teaching students that, “Look, we need a free press.” Like, there’s a lot of journalists who have distaste for it, but we need a free press. It’s, it’s the, uh, main pillar of a democracy.
And we also need a citizenry that’s capable of deconstructing news contents, just like you described dealing with your daughter there, you know, what are the words using? What evidence is here? What’s this person’s agenda? Who is the author? Who is the publisher? Um, how does that influence what is and isn’t reported?
Um, democracy, you know, is, is a work 20, is work 24 hours a day, and, and news is a major part of that, but we really haven’t, um, treated it like that in our education system at all. You know, we, we focus on “marketable skills,” uh, but we focus very little on civics, only about a fifth of our high schools in this country mandate some sort of civics course, uh, for graduation. And, and even in those, there’s no evidence that they necessarily centralize news literacy skills.
[00:21:47] Matt Bailey: No. Well, and that’s the thing. It, it goes far beyond civics. Uh, you know, as I was preparing her and reading through this, I, I was telling my wife, “Look, this, this is more important than math and physics. And, uh, you, you know, this is part of social studies.” This is, there, anyone who learns media literacy is going to use this every day for the rest of their life. And it’s not just what they see on the internet. It’s how they process any information they receive through any media.
And that is a daily chore that will enhance your career no matter what. And, and so, I see it as, you know, I would call it like the Gen Ed, that we have to understand this because you’re going to, it will improve your other skills and your other marketable skills. But they’re absolute, I agree with you there, absolutely has to be a basis of critical thinking and evaluation of any type of media.
[00:22:47] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, and it’s, I mean, it’s always fun to kind of, um, for, for some people I guess to, to pick on younger people, but, um, look at, you know, what happened, and then we dropped this media information bomb upon them in the form of the internet and social media, and we didn’t put anything in our schools to give them the skills to, to sift through it responsibly.
And so, I, I think, I think keeping that in mind when we approach these topics with young people, it’s really important that they’re in a space that, that is unfamiliar to anybody. And this has never been, happened before in human history. Um, so I think we have an obligation. I also think, though, that, um, when you point out the necessity of media literacy, I, I obviously agree. Um, I think we need to do a better job of explaining what media literacy is. I think, uh, some folks have the idea like, “Oh, those are the people that get together and make movies or drop posters.”
You know, we need to show that it’s, it’s much deeper. It’s about analyzing and deconstructing and we’re, we’re dealing with media already somewhere between 10 to 16 hours a day. Um, so let’s make sure we give folks, uh, the skills and perspectives to do it responsibly.
[00:23:50] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. And, and I think this is part of the, the technological, I, I would say effects on society is, like what you explained, all of a sudden, it’s been dropped in our lap with no instruction manual. And I equate that to what teachers are going through right now, so many of them now have to use these online classroom tools, and they’re just expected to use them without being taught how to use them. In the same way we give our students laptops, but we’re not teaching them how to use them, how to protect themselves. Uh, you know, it’s just, it, it, I, it seems to be a trend with technology that we’re telling people, “Here it is,” but not explaining how to use it properly.
[00:24:41] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, because the, the devil’s in the details, you know, a lot of the folks in industry, and this dates back for pre-Silicon Valley, but definitely in Silicon Valley or, um, they, they really want to be the ones to teach you how to use their content. Um, and they don’t want, uh, more, like, critical educators who not only show you how to use it, but also how to, how to ask questions. Um, you know, like, do I want to be notified all the time? Do I want to be addicted to email? Do I want my data collected? You know, yada yada, right?
Um, so, there, there’s kind of a fight in that sense that, um, industry doesn’t really want a lot of this education. Um, they’ll, you know, donate money to, to make it look like good PR, but really what they’re donating money to is teach you how to use Facebook, not how to question Facebook.
[00:25:25] Matt Bailey: Right. And that, I, that was a great, uh, part of your book where you talked about the, the techno-utopian approach and absolutely, you know, we see the brands that are involved in education, but what are they truly doing? And, and I, I guess I, I would say they’re teaching people how to be better consumers of the product, but not learning how to use the product.
[00:25:51] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, um, that’s, that’s basically the goal. This is, you know, companies like, um, Sony, Facebook, Google, um, they, they’ve really led the way on this, uh, there was, this was attempted in the middle of the 20th century, as well. Um, but, you know, a lot of teachers get sort of, um, swept up in it because they’re, like you said, they’re in new spaces, they’re desperate for content that’s relevant, and in walks Google with like a slick handbook that you can use and you can hand out assignments to your students and on their screens, loving it.
Um, but, you know, what’s more important for that content is what’s missing. Um, you know, what questions are you, are you not asking? And, and I think you saw this, uh, after 2016 or all those hearings about, uh, the role of the internet played in, in the election and the Congress people really seemed stupefied as to how Silicon Valley makes its money or…
[00:26:42] Matt Bailey: Yes.
[00:26:42] Nolan Higdon: …the connection between data collection and fake news. And, and, um, so they basically said, “Okay, you guys can regulate yourself.” And it’s not even necessarily that I think Silicon Valley is evil and, and, and won’t regulate itself. You’re simply asking them to do something they can’t do. How is Silicon Valley going to decipher out, um, truth from falsehood in every single situation?
It’s impossible. That’s never going to happen. Um, we’re, we’re, I think we’re better positioned if we have critical thinking citizenry that can analyze and make those decisions for themselves, rather than just throwing more tech at a problem that is largely exacerbated by tech.
[00:27:21] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Well, and your other option was more government regulation to the point of censorship, and you brought up the hearings, and to me, if the hearings showed me one thing, it’s that the government doesn’t understand tech. And those hearings were almost embarrassing because of the lack of understanding shown by our leadership about tech, how it operates, how they make money, uh, how any of these algorithms work. And so, how are they supposed to come up with any regulation? But I, I love how in the book, how you, you also show that regulation, that’s not really the right answer either.
[00:27:59] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, reg-, I mean, regulation can make some things better. Like I think, um, you know, Telecommunications Act created more diverse ownership, which I think was good. The Fairness Doctrine created a little more diverse “discourse, which was good, but we, we can’t hark back for the good old days.
I mean, you can look back at like the Vietnam War. That was in the era of regulated media, and our media system, uh, lied to the public and maintained this lie for, for years. So, regulation can do some things, and then, well, but not everything. And then regulation can go way too far, um, and, and commit things like censorship, um, which ironically, we sort of have anyways. We have censorship by proxy with these, these companies.
And the government itself is in this big fake news war against other countries like Russia and China. So, they have an incentive to privilege their own fake news over these other countries, and we can’t forget that, that they’re an active player in, uh, the fake news problem.
[00:28:51] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I was amazed to see, uh, even, especially I think when, uh, first few months of COVID and the mask regulations where, where we started to see protests against the lockdowns, uh, and it came out very quickly that these are not grassroots protests. They’re structured, they’re organized, uh, the dome, the domain names or the, the Facebook groups are being, are, they’re centralized. And, you know, that, I’d, that didn’t make the news as much as the protest did. And again, it’s one of those frustrating things where people are just running along with the news, rather than taking that moment or two to, to think seriously about it.
[00:29:36] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, I really want to drill down on what you’re saying there, ’cause I, I think this is, uh, one of the most important things, and it, it, it’s also one of the most confusing things that generally the best fake news either takes something that’s true and brings in a direction that’s false or it, uh, exploits actual feelings.
And so, like that protest, a lot of the folks at that protest, you know, I think were responding to the fact the government bailed out Wall Street and corporations, but didn’t bail out the working class, yet these people are being told they can’t work, and their economy is, is failing. So, you have this legitimate economic anxiety and anger.
[00:30:00] And, and fake news drives in and says, “Hey, you know what you could, you know how you could resolve this, is going against these people who are asking you to put on masks. They’re the real problem, right?” And so, you drive, you drive that energy, and, and it’s similar to what, um, you know, Trump did in the 2016 campaign, there was legitimate economic anxiety and anger in middle America.
Um, I know some of my friends on the coast don’t like to admit it, but he took that, and he said, “Look, blame the immigrants. Blame the coasts.” And he, he took at these other forces, um, and so, that’s kind of the, the real power of fake news, so, when you can take something that’s real feeling or a real story, and then exploit it for your own purposes.
[00:30:48] Matt Bailey: That is the key. I mean, like you said, there was a legit, there is legitimate emotion, there’s a legitimate frustration. And what fake news is doing is channeling it to a, to an end, uh, and, and there doesn’t seem to be, you know, when we have these other worldwide actors, the end may not make sense. The end is more just to create more chaos.
[00:31:11] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. Sometimes, uh, you know, it, sometimes you want to see, uh, chaos is, in chaos, certain groups or individuals can, can thrive. Um, and I think, you know, Steve Bannon, uh, who worked on the Trump campaign and administration briefly, he, he talked about this, that the way you centralize power, uh, for the right is by creating so much chaos that the left gets so angry, they’re focused on so many things at once, they can’t do anything. And that was his, that was his plan with Trump coming in. Uh, a bit, you know, abandoned for all of his faults, he, uh, honestly tells you his game plan, which I think is fascinating. Um…
[00:31:45] Matt Bailey: Right.
[00:31:45] Nolan Higdon: So, so he, so he admitted this, right? And if you go back and you look at that time period, you can see Trump was just making random announcements every day, right? There’s going to be a, there’s going to be a Muslim ban. He was going to ban LGBTQ folks from the military. He was going to release the JFK documents. And he’d just say all these things and, you know, it all, it, it’s a no, acts a distraction from what he really wants to do, you know, which is create like this, um, tax reduction plan and, and put some judges in place and remove some people at the head of different departments, et cetera, et cetera.
[00:32:16] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I mean, it’s a, you know, it, it’s the magician’s trick. It, it’s, it’s, “I’m waving my hand over here to get your attention and then over here, uh, you know, I’m passing the biggest surveillance bill,” uh, bi-partisan in fact, uh, you know, and that’s, you, you know, things like that. And, and, you know, speaking of surveillance, explain, I, I, I love it. Explain surveillance capitalism and how it falls into fake news.
[00:32:41] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, sur-, uh, surveillance capitalism goes back to this, this idea that, uh, you know, for, gosh, most of our capitalist history, advertisers have tried to get your attention. That’s how they make money. They get your attention, and they convince you to, to buy something.
Um, well these, uh, Silicon Valley, when the internet really sort of launched, it didn’t know how it was going to make money. It was kind of playing with ads and it was kind of taking some data, but not a lot, but after the, uh, dotcom bubble of 2000, a lot of these companies failed. Um, remember like pets.com lost like 70% of its revenue and things like this. So, so, um, the companies that were left, you know, Google was search engines, Amazon, which was primarily selling books, um, they had this data and they realized there was a market out there, um, for data that was analyzed and these algorithms, and this became surveillance capitalism.
Can we collect as much data as possible, and then analyze it through algorithms, and then sell those findings, um, to advertisers? And yet, and since the advertiser comes to the company and says, you know, “We want to target this group,” or, “We want to sell this,” and you give them space or access to the people that your algorithm have determined are most likely to, to buy the content.
Um, so that’s surveillance capitalism. It’s all the microphones, it’s all the cameras, it’s every click, it’s every like, it’s every search, it’s your GPS, um, it’s in your cars, in your television, it’s in your Alexa, it’s in your laptop. And, um, you’re, you’re being surveilled constantly in an effort to collect data.
And what, uh, Shoshana Zuboff, uh, talks about in, um, she says that we’ve, these algorithms have gone from predicting your behavior, “I, if I show them this ad, I predict they’ll buy this product,” to, um, nudging your behavior. That is, “Well, if we put them in this proper setting, we can then put a Buy Now button in front of them, and they’re likely to buy now.”
And so, they’re now trying to actually, um, control human behavior rather than just predict it. Um, and if, and if you go back to like really early Silicon Valley in the, in the, with, with Lid Letter in the fifties and sixties, he was this kind of like philosophical guru of Silicon Valley. And he, he, coming from Stanford said, “Look, the, the big goal that Stanford and these other universities want to do is we want to replace the human brain with a machine brain,” because machines, in his opinion, uh, were less likely to, to fall to emotion and things like that.
And so, in some way, Silicon Valley is trying to live out Lid Letter’s, um, fantasy, which is, “Let’s replace, uh, human thinking and human behavior with machines and, and algorithms.” that’s kind of the, the basis of surveillance capitalism. For fake news producers, that means that you could use those algorithms to determine how people will react to your fake news content.
And, um, you know, Trump famously spent, um, you know, millions of dollars on, um, Facebook in 2016, as have, um, other nations, as well, to figure out how to use these algorithms to convince people to do things they might otherwise not do.
[00:35:48] Matt Bailey: Yeah, and this gets into, you know, my area of marketing and the sheer amount of data that is collected on people. Uh, in, in any of my trainings, I usually will start out by having people go to the Google My Activity, where they see the history of their searches, their video views, if they’re on a Android phone, they’ll see all their app activity, as well. And, and more than half of the class is shocked just at that amount of data being recorded and visible. And I’m trying to explain to them that, “Okay, this is just what you see. This,” and, and they’re shaken by it. And some of them were immediately like, “Stop tracking me.” I’m like, “It’s not good enough.”
Uh, people in general don’t have a clue about what’s being tracked, and I think they’ve fallen also for the narrative of, “If I give my data, I get better ads,” which to me, is a complete fake narrative of exchange of value. Uh, so, this is, it, it’s just amazing to me how many people have no conception at all of the data, uh, or they just feel like giving up because, “There’s no way I could stop it.” Have, have you seen how that plays into some of the attitudes about the fake news, as well?
[00:37:14] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, so, you know, two, two things on that. One of them, I want to emphasize the, you said, I think is, is right on that Silicon Valley’s convinced people that this data collection is making your online experience better. Um, but to, to be frank, we find that people tend to click on things and like things that either anger them, really, or that they agree with.
So, um, Google, you know, is more likely to give you search results that confirm your view, when in fact, you might need actual evidence to the contrary ’cause you might be wrong. Um, instead we’re reinforcing people’s views, and the divisive content, um, is a lot more popular, as well, because it appeals to our emotions. So, we get, we engage with the idea of hating the other person on the other side of the screen, but we don’t engage, like, loving the other person on the other side of the screen too often.
So, I think, I think that’s key, and then your other, your other question about do people make this connection to fake news? Um, no. When I, when I was early writing this book, I was giving speeches around the country and, uh, I treated Silicon Valley as, you know, an equal part of my book as anything else and, um, people just had no clue. They, they thought that the whole talk should be just about, about that. And so, you’re right that, that folks don’t know.
Um, I also, you know, teach students and, and students, they come in pretty, um, apprehensive to the idea that their data is being collected in this way and being used for anything but, but good. But after you kind of, um, go through them, you know, 15, 16 weeks, you have quite a number of students who come back and say, “You know, I decided to get rid of my social media,” or, “I decided I’m going to turn off all my apps and notifications and only turn them on when I want to use them, rather than them, rather than them notify me when I shouldn’t use them.”
And so, you, you do start to see those changes, but it takes, it takes a lot of work. Um, you know, it’s, it’s not a joke to say that these things are addicting. Um, they, they’ve used a lot of the same methodologies that are used by the gambling industry that you, um, start to do the same thing over and over again because you want that dopamine rush that you got the one time you won on the slot machine. Well, the same thing happens at one time you got a friend who liked you, and at one time you have a notification. You keep coming back and back and back.
Um, but we’re spending endless time and if the, if the psychological studies were showing that we were happier and better off, then let’s do it, but they’re showing just the opposite. Um, we’re showing dramatic increases in self-mutilation amongst young people and suicide attempts amongst young people. Um, we’re seeing a drop in like, uh, romantic relationships and, um, sex in young people. And, you know, these are all signs of a, of a sort of generation in, in despair. That it’s just sort of stuck there staring at its screen, waiting for happiness to arrive.
[00:39:55] Matt Bailey: Wow. I mean that, those last few sentences are heavy. I mean, a generation in despair. I mean, it really, I, you know, once in a while, I’ll peruse Reddit just to kind of catch a few things, and that perfectly sums up the attitude that you see there. And it’s expressed in numerous ways, but the loneliness, the, really, the, the pointlessness of life is reflected in so much of what’s posted there.
[00:40:00] And if that’s your main source of information, if, and, and also being reinforced by people all over the world, you, you know, in, in your age group, uh, it really does drive this sense of hopelessness. And you, you know, I, I got, I got to put that into the fake category, as well.
[00:40:44] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, absolutely. Uh, you know, we, we, we used to debate this language in, um, academia, you know, are, are you a media user or a media consumer? We want you to be a media user, like you use the tools. You know, what we’re, what we’re starting to I think really realize is, um, these new digital tools are really using us. They notify us when we should pick them up, when we should look at them, when we should respond. Um, and it, it’s almost like the, the tool that’s become the master and the master has become the tool in that sense.
And I, I don’t think, um, it’s necessarily all, all doom and gloom. Um, it, goes back to something you said earlier, there’s a lot of people just don’t know. I mean, knowledge, knowledge is power. When, when I do talk to parents or do talk to young people, you know, they, they take an interest and I, I give them things that they can do.
And then it’s ultimately up to them. I don’t tell anyone what they should do, but, you know, I do say, you know, consider, like, do you really need social media? Do you need your camera and mic on all the time, or, or instead of taking, you know, pictures of the food you’re about to eat, what if you just ate it? Um, you know, and thing, things like that, um, you know…
[00:41:49] Matt Bailey: Yeah.
[00:41:49] Nolan Higdon: …those, those sorts of, like, conversations, um, I, I think can be helpful. And then, of course we can also, um, lead by example, uh, you know, I have quite a number of nieces and nephews in my life and I, I try to not have my phone out while they’re around, so they don’t think it’s normal for like an adult to always be looking at their phone, um, you know, and those sorts of things. So, I think we can, we can do a lot of those, uh, smaller things that can make a big difference.
[00:42:14] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. And, and, and this gets back to the, the addiction, uh, that you referenced earlier, and it, it made me think of, uh, early in my marketing career I, I had gambling clients and I’ll tell you, the education that I got of, you, you know, and it, and like you said, everything is being mimicked on our phone, the, the colors, the tones, that there is a specific key and tone that are naturally pleasing to our brain, and that’s being used in notifications and sounds and feedback.
And one of the other things the gambling industry does, especially sports books, is, you know, there, there’s an upcoming football game. Half the writers will write an article about why this team’s going to win, and the other half write an article about why the other team’s going to win. It’s not that they actually have a vested interest or think a certain way or have an opinion. It’s just literally by chance, this guy has to write about that team and, “They’re going to win,” because this was explained to me, we, we just want people to read what they want to read. And that, and it, that gives them the motivation to gamble more.
And, and, and, but I see the same thing happening in news media, where in the same publication, two different articles taking two sides of an issue, and they’re benefiting from both sides seeing what they want to see. And so, so much of that just seeps into our culture.
[00:43:51] Nolan Higdon: That’s what, it’s fascinating about, um, the sports writers and yeah, I think you’re right. There’s a analogy of, um, and I guess non, non-sports news, as well. You know, what I, what I tell folks is we’ve, we, we train to like, you know, listen to the other side or both sides is, um, just because, first of all, there’s more than two sides to, to anything but beyond that, just because there’s another side doesn’t mean they necessarily have a compelling argument.
Um, so, you know, of course, listen out, hear people out. Absolutely. But we, we shouldn’t necessarily treat all like they are compelling. Some have evidence, you know, some don’t, some made conclusions off that evidence that are, uh, sound, some are not. Um, and I think your sports analogy is a perfect example of, you know, one, one of those articles is correct, one is wrong in that sense, or will be, you know, proven as such, right?
[00:44:39] Matt Bailey: Yes, exactly. Uh, but the motivation is to get people to spend more. And that’s what just it, it, it’s not based on anything other than someone’s opinion. And honestly, that’s why I stopped watching sports talk because I realized, “This is manufactured chaos, is what it is.” Uh, and, “We’re not going anywhere.” So, it was one of the things in my media diet that I just, you know, “I, it’s, I’ve got to cut that.” And, uh, one of the best things I ever did.
[00:45:08] Nolan Higdon: Right? Yeah, sometimes, you know, some, sometimes, uh, you know, looking for, um, credible news is, is very important, but sometimes cutting things out of your media diet is, is equally important, as well. Um, and I, you know, you’re, you’re talking about sports, sports talk radio, but I think social media is a good one to, to cut out. I mean, a lot of what you’re doing on there, I don’t think is necessarily useful or, or productive. Um, not everything has to be useful or productive. We all have guilty pleasures, we opened up talking about pro-wrestling, um, you know, to, to be clear. Um, but, uh, you know, 24/7 mindless entertainment is not good for you for a, a multitude of reasons.
So, just considering what you can cut out, um, what you feel okay cutting out can be an important step, as well to, um, undoing some of the fake news problem. And similarly, I always emphasize this in the book, as well, it was a solutions guide at the end, um, to take quality over quantity. It’s better to take less news content and analyze it more in depth than it is to read and share every headline you come across. Um, so that’s a lot, a lot better for your news diet, as well, is to really get to know the article and its evidence or the broadcast and its evidence, as opposed to just liking and sharing everything.
[00:46:22] Matt Bailey: Oh, yeah. And, and I, that’s one thing I loved about the end of the book is you put in practical steps, and I want to get to that, but one of the first, before I get to that, I love what you said, focus on the quality of your news rather than the quantity. And very similar to the sports talk example, uh, the infotainment or the, I, I, I was wondering how far I’d have to get into your book before I saw a Neil Postman quote. Uh, and, and, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Uh, but how news has turned into entertainment and I, and you make a, a great chapter of developing where, you know, we get stuff like O’Reilly, we get stuff like Olbermann, where it’s not news. It’s, it’s entertainment, but using the news as a backdrop, and what is, what are we actually learning from this? And, you know, I think that was a very important thing. And, and like you said, it’s one of those things, if you’re going to cut something out, cut out the infotainment.
[00:47:21] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, yeah, you know, in, after the 1996, uh, Congress passed the, the Telecommunications Act and, and now it, it got rid of the limits on how many media outlets you could be on in a particular market, and we went from about 50 corporations controlling our news media down to 6 and today there are mergers. We might end up with 4, believe it or not.
Um, but, but um, these were, you know, monopolizing corporations and, and they wanted to maximize revenue. And so, they cut what they saw as pointless expenses. You know, first it was overseas bureaus, then it was journalists who were in smaller markets, um, they cut weekend staff. So, I always like to say, if you have something big happen in your small town on the weekends, like nobody’s going to cover it.
And ’cause the 24 hour, at the advent of 24 hour news, right? With CNN in the 80’s and then MSNBC and, and Fox thereafter in the 90’s, um, they had to, uh, fill time. And so, they decided to fill time with analyzing the news. Um, they really, you could tell in the beginning, they really weren’t sure what analyzing the news meant. Um, but they got a, uh, sort of a inspiration from an unlikely place, which was what we used to call fake news, which was satire news, um, like The Daily Show and stuff like that.
And, you know, The Daily Show cut its teeth on, “We’re going to make fun of how, um, hyper-partisan and ignorant people are in, in news media,” uh, particularly conservatives. They lampooned Republicans and conservatives, um, which is funny, you know, Jon Stewart would tell you that he was doing that to hopefully move the industry to, um, reform itself. Instead, the industry looked at what he was doing and said, “We need to do that.”
[00:49:00] Matt Bailey: “That’s a good idea.”
[00:49:01] Nolan Higdon: Yeah.
[00:49:01] Matt Bailey: Yeah, “That’s a good idea.”
[00:49:02] Nolan Higdon: And so, Fox, and so Fox were lampooning Democrats, um, you know, the same way that Jon Stewart was doing, MSNBC started lampooning Fox the way that Fox was lampooning Democrats, and, you know, it, it erupted into this ultimo Keith Olbermann Bill O’Reilly personality war, where you tuned in to watch them like insult or blow up the other side. Which again, maybe it’s cathartic for some Tuesday or something, but it, it, it’s not any news, and these are not important people in your life.
Um, and these, uh, the same format has persisted with, you know, the resistant liberals of Rachel Maddow and, and Don Lemon and, um, what’s his name? His brother’s the, the governor, uh, Cuomo, um, on CNN. They, they do that, as well, and, of course on Fox you have it with Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and, uh, the sort of, um, they posit themselves like the liberal, or liberty, uh, loving Trump supporters.
[00:50:00] Um, but again, there’s no news in any of that, and, and worse I can, you know, and I point at this in the book, you could point in numerous examples where they flat out either got things wrong, or have, uh, lied to the public. Um, you know, Hannity openly works with the Trump administration to take Trump lies and, and present them as news. Um, Rachel Maddow was responsible for a lot of the excesses in reporting for Russiagate that turned out to be false. So, you know, not only are you not getting news, you’re getting, you know, false information as, as you’re watching this stuff, as well.
[00:50:29] Matt Bailey: Probably one of the more things that has frustrated me most about the evolution of television news is, “Let’s have five people on for three minutes and let them argue over each other.” And, and honestly, at the end of that, I’m like, “What was even the purpose? What, I didn’t learn a thing.” They just argued, they demanded apologies for cutting each other off, and it, it was just really, this is what the medium has become. Uh, and, and total fulfillment of what Neil Postman said would happen to the news media. Uh, and, and again, yeah, it just becomes very similar to the WWE style, yelling in the microphone about the opponent, and then we cut to the match.
[00:51:14] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, I mean, you know, you know, a great point there, as well. Um, you know, you try, like, CNN and they have like, and this is no joke, 10 people, plus 2 hosts. There’s like 12 people on the stage and you know they have to cut to commercial in 6 minutes and, “Alright, let’s talk about poverty in America.” And it’s like 6 minutes for poverty in America is insane alone, but have like 12 people comment on it?
You know, I’ve been in new stud-, I don’t get invited into new studios as much now that I’ve written 2 books on the news industry. But, um, when I used to go in these new studios, um, you know, they’re, they, they try to manufacture it as much as possible. You know, “Here’s the 3 topics we’re going to talk about in this, you know, 3-minute segments.” And so, you’re, the pressure is put on you to overly simplify or dumb things down into 32nd soundbites, which really doesn’t serve the public very well.
That’s why I like podcasting. I think, podcasts for myself and, and the work that podcasters are doing, you know, they try the best and I think a lot of them do a great job of saying, “This is a serious issue,” or, “This is a serious person,” or, “This is a serious group. I’m going to give them, you know, a serious amount of time to, to analyze or discuss this.” And that just simply doesn’t exist in, um, you know, television news formats.
[00:52:21] Matt Bailey: No, and I think podcasts have probably been one of the most revolutionary forms of media in the past few years. I, just last week, uh, we listened to a podcast from NPR about the history of bananas, and it was fascinating about an industrialist who went down to Costa Rica, became a, you know, monopolized everything because he traded, uh, free non-taxable land, but then also what he did in essentially enslaving people, he brought bananas into the U.S. at cut rate prices that no other, uh, you know, food distributor or fruit distributor could compete with. And that’s how we got bananas.
But it was an hour-long podcast where you could never in a traditional, commercially driven news media, tell that story with the implications and the social effects that came after it. And so, I, I love podcasts now and how they’re able to hit these very niche subjects and teach us really more in-depth than we’ll ever get from a commercially centered enterprise.
[00:53:32] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. I completely agree. They, uh, you know, television news, their, their excuse was always, “Well, people don’t like to pay attention very long, so we have to do it short,” but, but podcasts are blowing that excuse out of the water. And like you said, I happen to also be very interested in the history of bananas, read a couple of good books on that. Um, but, yeah, that’s, that’s a topic they would never cover. They would think, like, “There’s no way people are going to be interested in, in bananas,” but, you know, there you go, you have people tuning in for an hour or whatever, um, to hear about it.
So, I, I, I, I think that, um, that’s why I said earlier that I’m not, I’m not totally 100% doubtful. I think there are options and avenues for us to, um, really reestablish the centrality of journalism to our democracy and strengthen it. Um, but we do have to kind of shake off some of these old ways of viewing the world, um, you know, assuming that like people are interested in, in content or people are too stupid or the other side is lost. Um, I think we need to, to, to re-engineer how we think about, uh, news information and our fellow citizenry.
[00:54:29] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. I, I deal with this a lot in online marketing, but also because I do a lot in online education, more and more education providers when they ask me for training videos, they’re now saying, “Okay, the training video needs to be 4 minutes or less.” And 2 years ago, it was 6 minutes or less. And I keep pushing back on that and they’re saying, “Well, our, our data shows that people are really aren’t interested beyond 4 minutes.”
My put, response to that, I, I just want to come back and say, “Well, maybe you’re not giving them good information,” because you look at the podcasts that are at the top, and these are hour-long, in-depth, and people are listening to the entire episode. They’re good stories. They’re relevant. They’re interesting. What people don’t want is the same old boring manufactured content and they’re going to bail on it.
[00:55:22] Nolan Higdon: Absolutely. And I think, uh, you know, we see this and, and I’m sure you see this in some of your marketing studies that, that people can, can tell when they’re being talked down to or treated like children and they, they tend not to like it. So, and I think podcasts, you know, you, you kind of enter into listening to a conversation where people are talking to each other as equals, where when you watch a lot of, like, news content, a lot of these personalities act like authorities on the subject when they’re not and they talk to you like you’re ignorant of the subject when you’re not.
[00:55:47] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that’s one of the keys of the podcast is when you feel like you could participate, then you know it’s a good podcast.
[00:55:56] Nolan Higdon: Mhm. Agreed.
[00:55:57] Matt Bailey: Because it, it, there’s no pretense. It’s, we’re learning just like you are. Here’s what we found out. I want to cover some of the parts of your toolkit that you give at the end of the book, uh, as we wrap up here. And, and one of them you brought up already about, do I want to be, uh, an informed user or a disseminator? I thought that was such a first place to start is stop sharing. That was a great place to start.
[00:56:24] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, I felt like, you know, we, again, this goes back to that conversation about how we need to re-establish the purpose of news is for a democracy that we rarely think about why we’re reading the news, um, in the first place. If you’re reading the news because you want to be more informed and help your democracy, let’s do it the right way. If you’re simply looking at the headline because you want to share it, then you’re more like, you’re better, um, described as a fake news disseminator. So, I think you need to make a decision about what you want to be and what you want to do.
[00:56:51] Matt Bailey: I think that’s powerful because if people would realize that you’re part of the problem if you’re passing this on, that, I think the, the words you use, the fake news disseminator, that places the impetus now on the individual. That if you disagree with fake news, look at yourself first.
[00:57:12] Nolan Higdon: We’ve fallen into this sensibility of, you know, blame the Democrat, blame the Republican, blame the conservative outlet, blame the liberal outlet. You know, there, there’s a lot of blame to go around everywhere, including for ourselves. You know, we, we read this stuff, we share this stuff, we talk about this stuff. Um, and that’s one place you can start. You may never be able to control Trump’s Twitter feed, but you can control yourself.
[00:57:32] Matt Bailey: Great, great point. Uh, the second thing was, uh, does this article cause me to react or investigate? I love that. Love that. Uh, that gets back to the, the article with my daughter, and that was the point of contention there that we learned from that.
[00:57:48] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. Uh, sometimes we, and sometimes when we react, we react to what we think we read versus what we actually read. Um, and, you know, these headlines are really good at this. They, they are constructed in a way that’s, makes you think something, but they might not even actually say it. Um, you know, sometimes like they’ll say like, uh, “A Researcher in a New Paper has Said X, Y, and Z,” and you’re like, “Who would publish that?”
And you realize it’s not published. The researcher just wrote a paper. You know, so those sort of things are, are, are the way headlines can, can, um, do that kind of stuff. And so, it’s much better to, I argue, to, rather than react, you’re mad or happy or supportive, investigate. What is in this actual article? What are they saying? What’s in here?
[00:58:30] Matt Bailey: Well, a point on investigation and, and you, you alluded to this and I, I just read about it the other day is the rabbit hole of citations, that so many times, and I think the other day, the article I read about was when, uh, I think it was the governor of Michigan said that, uh, evidence shows that masks stop 70%, or, or it was something like that, um, stop 70% of infections, and that was cited by somebody else who cited by somebody else and cited by someone else.
And ultimately, there’s no study. It’s just something and, and being in marketing, there are many times I try to find these facts and figures to share when I’m teaching, and I’ll start this rabbit hole, and ultimately come around that there’s just this circular evidence that never points to anything specific, but it’s been repeated so many times, it’s now just an accepted stat.
[00:59:26] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, absolutely true. I, I, I can’t tell you how many times, especially when I was researching this book where I would hear a story, that’s why, just because it has a citation doesn’t mean you should believe it. You really need to investigate the citation, itself.
[00:59:37] Matt Bailey: Absolutely. I’m amazed at, uh, how much that happens and, uh, it, it, it, it, I am, sometimes you get a bunch of 404 pages of something that used to be there and not there anymore. The third part of, the third one was self-reflection of why did this appeal to me? That’s a, a very personal, uh, aspect to this that was a surprise to me, but yet, it makes so much sense to include that.
[01:00:00] Nolan Higdon: Yeah, we should, you know, reflect. There, there’s um, trillions of, uh, multi-trillions of, uh, information or content out there. Why, why this particular piece? Was it your Google search? Was it your social media feed? Was it a website you chose to go to because you like this outlet? You know, what is it that drew your attention? Was it the image? All these things can be quite revealing, um, in your own bias as to why you’re reading the content you are and ignoring the other content.
[01:00:29] Matt Bailey: Well, I find it also interesting to, that question, immediately what it made me think of is, uh, doing a presentation and sharing with them about these sponsored news at the bottom of the pages and, and explaining what native advertising is and showing them examples of these sponsored links. And, and I said, “Yes, they’re meant to be sexualized. They’re meant to be over the top. And why do they appeal to you? Why are you clicking on it? Be honest. And the more you click on them, the more you’re going to see that.”
And they were surprised to find that out, but, and that’s where my mind went on that one is, that takes a little bit of self-honesty here about, “Why, why am I seeing this?” Well, it could be because of your previous behavior.
[01:01:17] Nolan Higdon: Absolutely, yeah. Uh, your, your likes and dislikes play a major role in that, and then, you know, to go to like native advertising, um, you know, some, some of that stuff is after just innate ability, likes sexual desires and stuff like that. It’s, the imagery tries to, to, um, draw a reaction to those things, as well.
[01:01:35] Matt Bailey: Yeah, I think we could spend a whole show on, on sponsored ads that look like news that, uh, nothing drives me nuts more than that, uh, to see that in, in, in stories.
[01:01:47] Nolan Higdon: It’s a major industry. Yeah.
[01:01:50] Matt Bailey: Oh, absolutely. Um, and then I’ll wrap up with the last one, which was, uh, who is the publisher? Uh, being a, a, really a, a, a foundational question.
[01:02:01] Nolan Higdon: Yeah. Um, you know, we spend so much time online and we talked about this, uh, today we talked about wasting time. Um, you know, who is the publisher, who is the author of the piece, um, as well as what outlet published it, can be really important questions because I, for one, uh, really value credibility. I understand that people make mistakes. I don’t think if you make one mistake in reporting, you’re, you’re wrong all the time, but if you have a known pattern of publishing false or misleading content, or if you’re an author who’s known to write or broadcast misleading or false content, um, I take what you say with a grain of salt. You’ve sort of broken that credibility, um, with me.
And so, I think developing those kind of relationships, uh, with news outlets and journalists is really important for helping you kind of decide what’s worth your time and what’s not.
[01:02:49] Matt Bailey: Great. Great stuff. Nolan, I got to tell you, this has, uh, this has been a great, uh, experience listening to you. Uh, I’d, I’d love to do another hour sometime because I think we could easily fill it up, uh, maybe even breaking down some of these things even more. Um, but how can people find your book? Uh, how can they follow you and hear more about fake news and your studies of it?
[01:03:15] Nolan Higdon: Absolutely. Uh, thank you. Um, my book, you can buy a copy at ucpress.edu, um, that’s University of California Press. Um, I’m also the host of the Along the Line podcast at youtube.com/alongtheline.
Um, and then you can also follow me on Twitter, I’m @Nolan_Higdon and you can follow my work there and, and publications. And I agree, this has been a great conversation. I hope to come back on the show again and maybe we’ll, uh, try and work on, um, chronicling the history of pro wrestling or something.
[01:03:45] Matt Bailey: That sounds good. I think we could do a few shows there. Sounds good, Nolan. Hey, thank you so much. This has been a great conversation and I look forward to more.
[01:03:56] Nolan Higdon: Thank you.
[01:03:57] Matt Bailey: Alright. Thank you, listener, for tuning in to the Endless Coffee Cup podcast. I hope this is one that’s, uh, been fascinating to you, and, uh, please let me know if you would like to hear more on this content. Uh, it’s important to me and, uh, it, I hope it is important to you, as well. Make sure you send this along to someone that you know that could use this kind of information. So, thanks again. Nolan, thank you for joining me. Have a great week, everyone.
Dr. Nolan Higdon
History and Media Studies Lecturer
Twitter: Nolan Higdon | Twitter
Listen to Nolan Higdon on another episode:
Endless Coffee Cup: “Fake News, Clickbait, and the Value of Conversation”