The Alexandrian

I was recently linked to this story on Facebook: U.S. Government Bans Native American Tribe From Protesting On Their Own Land – Send In Police To Remove Protesters.

As far as I can tell, the linked story is bullshit. First, it’s unclear which judicial action it’s reporting on. The article was written on September 7th, but the only judicial action on that day was actually a victory for Native American protestors.

Digging a little deeper, however, it appears that this is actually just a spam site that’s repackaging a story that got a lot of clicks on Facebook so that it can harvest some of that proven clickbait. It was most likely posted by an algorithm that noticed an uptick in Native American-related or pipeline-related stories on social media, and decided to copy-paste an earlier story on those topics which was a known success at attracting likes and shares.

The story it was copying, however, was actually just a spammy repackaging of actual reporting that had taken place several days earlier by Telesur.

Telesur’s story, however, wasn’t accurate. And their headline (“Native Americans Banned from Protesting Pipeline on Own Land”) was total bullshit. As Native News Online accurately reported, the judge’s order only prohibited them from physically interfering with construction. It didn’t ban them from protesting. Furthermore, the site covered by the judge’s order wasn’t actually on a Native American reservation, so it never banned them from ANYTHING “on their own land”.

So, to sum up: Inaccurate reporting tied to a completely inaccurate headline caused a bunch of fringe websites to post mock-outrage stories about something that wasn’t actually happening. One of those mock-outrage stories remixed the headline into a mostly fact-free rant masquerading as a news story and paired it to a really great photograph that caused people to click it and share it. Then some trashy sites noticed that the post was popular and duped it in order to harvest the advertising revenue.

The photograph, by the way, is actually of a Brazilian man from 2012: “An indigenous man stands as riot police stand guard during the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, June 20, 2012. Brazil’s indigenous are protesting the government’s plan to construct the large Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Amazon.”

And that’s how most Americans are getting their news in 2016.

Which is a problem. Because, as we’ve just demonstrated, what the algorithms, systems, and mob psychology of social media select for is not the dissemination of truth. It is the dissemination of outrage. When you unthinkingly allow yourself to take in that outrage, you’re doing a disservice to yourself. And when you unthinkingly allow that outrage to drive your actions — even the simple action of hitting a Like or Share or Retweet or Up Vote button — you’re doing a disservice to everyone around you.

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8 Responses to “The Outrage Machine (How You’re Being Lied to By Your Friends and Family Every Day)”

  1. Pedro O. says:

    It’s been a while since I started reading your blog, this is the first time I see something related to my country, I guess. It’s a pitty that’s a picture I cannot be proud of.

  2. Pere Ubu says:

    The sad fact is that even as these kinds of stories are passed around, usually five minutes with Google will catch them out as lies created for various reasons. It’s like people don’t realize that they can highlight text and search on the very same device that they received the story from…

  3. Professor Oats says:

    I see this kind of thing every day, especially when it comes to scientific studies. I swear, most of my time on Facebook’s just spent explaining to friends why the crap they post is stupid

    I don’t know what’s more frustrating:

    1) that I’m a conservative, yet I keep having to defend liberals because right-wing clickbait’s some of the worst out there, OR

    2) that I’ve told my friends countless times they only need to do about five seconds of research to figure out what’s B.S., yet they still keep sharing it!

  4. Hedgewick says:

    Thank you for this. Given how pervasive the culture of outrage has become online, we could all use a regular reminder.

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    @Professor Oats: It’s interesting that you feel that way as a conservative, because as a moderate liberal I feel like I spend most of my time debunking stupid liberal memes. (Case in point with this post.)

    Sometimes I feel like that’s because my self-selected social circle and the algorithms of social media are serving up more liberal stuff in general (and, thus, more liberal nonsense as a percentage of that). Sometimes I feel that it’s that I subconsciously hold those ideologically similar to me to a higher standard; or maybe that I feel small corrections are more likely to have some sort of meaningful effect. (If I see someone ranting about Obama’s death panels, for example, the distance between that and truth seems so vast that the time necessary to engage with it just doesn’t seem worth it.)

  6. TeaAddict says:

    I can’t seem to get it though peoples heads the actual Dictionary definitions of the words used in the political and social realm. I’m so glad I switch professions before becoming a full fledged Socials Studies teacher. It probably would have killed me.

    Generally I rate my Liberal friends slightly better then my Conservative ones, simply because there is a point (however hard to reach) where most will admit on being wrong, or fooled about something. My Conservative friends will never fact check anything, ever, even including the times there is actual data to help them.

  7. Alzrius says:

    My friends all think I’m some sort of crypto-luddite for refusing to use Facebook. When I try to tell them that it’s because of how I object to things like the bullshit covered in this article, they’re not so much unaware of it all as it is that they don’t care very much (at least compared to the utility they get out of it).

  8. Pouncedakitten says:

    I just wanted to praise the sane dialogue and discussion between conservative and liberal. It just doesn’t happen enough to not acknowledge.

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