Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Fake News" peddlers have a huge asymmetrical advantage

Let me suggest another sort of inquiry into the source of our fact-polarization.  On the internet, promoters of obscure or semi-obscure misinformation have a huge asymmetrical advantage.

Tom O'Bryan, a chiropractor and self-promoted as an "internationally recognized speaker specializing in Gluten Sensitivity & Celiac Disease" is quite likely the main guy responsible for the anti-gluten fad.  People with celiac disease need to avoid gluten, but that disease affects about 1 in 100 people.

Now, some experiments with Google. Thanks to the filter bubble different people will get different results from Google, unless you anonymize yourself, and "hit counts" are of very dubious value unless they are very small, so the following will give just a rough idea.

If you Google{ "Tom O'Bryan" } Google claims 330,000 hits, and you will go through many pages without finding anything critical of the good doctor.  I gave up trying.  When I did Google{ "Tom O'Bryan" quack }, I got 222 nominal hits, including and  My conclusion: he is pretty much below the radar and nearly all that ends up on the web about him comes from him and his associates or believers.  If Wikipedia had an article on O'Bryan, that would have come up on the 1st page but they don't.

If you google "GMO", you will get a reasonable distribution of pro and con articles from the start.  But when I google{ GML "pig intestines" } I get, among 22,800 nominal hits, about a 9:1 ratio of items tracing back to a probably very flawed study that summarizes as "GMO feed turns pig stomachs to mush! Shocking photos ..."

If you google{ Obama wedding ring } Google announces 3,600,000 hits and from the start it is about a 9:1 ratio of items claiming that something about Obama's wedding ring proves that he is a muslim.  There is much variety, including "BARACK OBAMA'S GAY SHARIA WEDDING RING!!!".  In the first few pages, about 1 in 10 items is a Snopes or factcheck or some such criticism of the theory.

If you google{ Obama muslim } you get a non-overwhelming majority of items critical to the idea, at least for the first few pages.

Finally, if you google{ Obama religion } you get mostly items asserting Obama is after all a Christian.  In general, the closer you get to a representative or key phrase of a supporting argument for a theory with a big or moneyed set of promoters -- and moreover the theory is ignored by most people -- the more Google will seem to confirm that it is true.

Searches that represent the headline claim will elicit more criticisms of fake facts, while searches that represent an obscure supporting claim will come up almost completely positive.

People who get the anonymous right wing emails, or go to the 2nd or 3rd tier RW sites, which circulate the rumors of the day are treated to an endless parade of "last nails in the coffin of the AGW hoax", and when they look on the web they find almost nothing but support, heightened by the filter bubble effect since Google's interest is to show them things they like seeing.