News, Fake News and Not News

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Recently we were thinking about the news. What makes news? Then there is the discussion about fake news. At Wikipedia we found a page that is about Fake news websites: “Fake news websites (also referred to as hoax news, deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news — often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.Unlike news satire, fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain”.

But what about news that is “left out“, as we formulated in one of our blog posts?

“One can safely assume that any information you are presented with has some relevant information “Left Out”. The originator’s perspective, the logic bubble in which he perceives the world and how the information is applied are some possible reasons for the missing information”.

We can also safely assume that editors of media do “leave-out” news, in good faith. However, there could be some doubt about, as Naomi Chomsky pointed out in “Manufacturing Consent“:

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“The mass communication media of the U.S. are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalised assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion”

That raises the question if there exists a keyword “Not News” in Google. Could we find “left-out”news in Google? We got only one hit:

Project Censored – The News That Didn’t Make The News and Why is a well researched website featuring the Top Censored Stories of 2015–2016: Covering up police violence by manipulation Wikipedia pages, violations of the Freedom of Information Act, compensations for vaccine injured families, big pharma lobbying, internet surveillance, FBI spying on rebellion at high schools, and lots of other disturbing news not mentioned in the mainstream media.

Admittedly, it’s all in America, but would it be different elsewhere? We earlier described the mechanisms that explain why disturbing news is not published by the mean stream media (See Press Patterns).

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By the way, in addition to “Manufacturing Consent”, we came across an interesting essay about “Manufacturing Normality”. Nowadays political dissent is stigmatised as aberrant or “abnormal” behaviour, as opposed to a position meriting discussion. Political distinctions like “left” and “right” are disappearing, and are being replaced by imponderable distinctions like “normal” and “abnormal,” “true” and “false,” and “real” and “fake.”.

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Group Obedience

Have you ever stopped yourself from speaking up at a meeting because you felt that the idea or suggestion would not be appreciated or ridiculed? Groupthink is a phenomenon where the desire for group cohesiveness and a quick decision cloud the judgment of the people in the group. The decision taken is often less than ideal. Consequently, identifying warning signs of groupthink is vital. 

images (1)Bay of Pigs was a plan that many knew in advance would fail. Yet the American President J.F. Kennedy went ahead with the plans to try to invade Cuba despite the fact that several of the general knew that the plan would backfire.

Another example is the Challenger explosion, which was a disaster that occurred in 1986 where seven people died. Engineers of the space shuttle knew about some faulty parts months before takeoff, yet the signs were ignored to avoid negative press and the shuttle was launched. 

imagesFeelings of unanimity and morality within the group lead to the members thinking that everyone agrees. Members of the group may be afraid of controversy and there may be a pressure to conform to the group’s decision. In some cases, there is a pressure to make a quick decision and the group may work with incomplete information. This may result in an idea that is not balanced. Or it may result in a family going to Abilene despite the fact that no one wants to go. ScreenShot2012-01-27at115851AM

The Abilene Paradox was coined by Jerry B. Harvey, and author of “The Abilene Paradox and Other Meditations on Management”. 

There are a number of ways to avoid groupthink such as finding negative points and risks with an idea (see Thinkibility – Positive & Negative). Asking members outside the group to look at the idea is another way to reduce the effects of groupthink. 

Learning how to spot groupthink is vital. Signs of groupthink are a strong leader, high level of group cohesion and pressure from the outside to make a good decision.

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Pressure of a moral character is difficult to deal with. For example, the suggestion that an idea is better because it is more moral is challenging and difficult to resist since no one wants to be seen as less moral or immoral. Suggestions such as “We all know right from wrong, and this is right” are emotionally difficult to deal with. 

A company should have a Plan B or a contingency plan to minimise risks related to groupthinkThe emotional consequences of groupthink can leave many of the members feeling disillusioned and dissatisfied. Enthusiasm can fade if you feel that you do not support a decision that has been taken by the group.  

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Creating a healthy group working environment helps to ensure that the group makes good decisions. Nominal Group Technique focuses on members independently  nominating priority issues, on a scale of, for example, 1 to 5.

 

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Another method that could be used is the Delphi method. This method helps to structure the communication to ensure that consensus is achieved. Thus these methods try to prevent and minimise the impact of Groupthink.

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It is called Delphi because some researchers assumed that the forecasts by the priests of the Delphi oracle basically were compilations of information the visitors from all over the known world brought in themselves.

Basically, it is not the best strategy to strive for consensus, but for dissent.

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So encourage disagreement, difference of opinion, argument, dispute, disapproval, objection and protest over constructing consent and majority rule.

See also our earlier posts:

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Distorted Logic Bubbles

In an interesting article from McKinsey Quarterly Charles Roxburgh explains why good executives back bad strategies.

In an earlier blog post  we introduced the concept of the “Logic Bubble”. Edward de Bono

used  the term to describe the set of values, needs, beliefs and experiences that a person sees the world through. We all have a logic bubble and we make choices and behave in ways that are consistent with our logic bubble. Implicitly it is assumed that the brain act rationally on the basis of the logic within the bounded perception space.

However, already in the fifties of the last century HerbertSimon proposed the concept of bounded rationality – the idea that in decision-making, rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make a decision. The boundaries of perception could be somewhat distorted. Roxburgh mentions eight flaws he derives from behavioral economicswhich studies the effects of social, cognitive, and emotional factors on the economic decisions of individuals and institutions as opposed to the paradigm that humans make economic decisions rationally.

1. Overconfidence : The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in which someone’s subjective confidence in their judgments is reliably greater than their objective accuracy, especially when confidence is relatively high.

2. Mental Accounting : mental accounting attempts to describe the process whereby people code, categorize and evaluate economic outcomes. An example of mental accounting is creating new categories of spending like “strategic investment”.

3.The Status Quo Bias : Status quo bias is a cognitive bias; an irrational preference for the current state of affairs. Status quo bias interacts with other non-rational cognitive processes such as loss aversion, existence bias, endowment effect, longevity, mere exposure, and regret avoidance.

4. Anchoring : anchoring or focal-ism is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. During normal decision making, anchoring occurs when individuals overly rely on a specific piece of information to govern their thought process. Once the anchor is set, there is a bias toward adjusting or interpreting other information to reflect the “anchored” information.

5. The Sunk Cost Effect : sunk costs are past costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Sunk costs do, in fact, influence actors’ decisions because humans are prone to loss-averse and framing effects, and in light of such cognitive quirks, it is unsurprising that people frequently fail to behave in ways that economists would deem “rational.”

6. The Herding Instinct : herd behavior describes how individuals in a group can act together without planned direction. The term pertains to the behavior of animals in herds, flocks and schools, and to human conduct during activities such as stock market bubbles and crashes, street demonstrations, sporting events, religious gatherings, episodes of mob violence and everyday decision-making, judgment and opinion-forming.

7. Misestimating Future Hedoninistic States : hedonistic forecasting is the prediction of one’s emotional state in the future. People are surprisingly poor judges of their future emotional states. For example, in predicting how events like winning the lottery might affect their happiness, people are likely to overestimate future positive feelings, ignoring the numerous other factors that might contribute to their emotional state outside of the single lottery event.

8. False Consensus : the false-consensus effect is a cognitive bias whereby a person tends to overestimate how much other people agree with him or her. There is a tendency for people to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values and habits are ‘normal’ and that others also think the same way that they do. This cognitive bias tends to lead to the perception of a consensus that does not exist, a ‘false consensus’. This false consensus is significant because it increases self esteem. The need to be “normal” and fit in with other people is underlined by a desire to conform and be liked by others in a social environment. Causes might be confirmation bias, selective recall, biased evaluation and group-think.

In his article Roxburgh give some hints to lessen distortions of perception. Also, there aresome excellent references given.

Photo:  “White Doors In The Sky” by nattavut