Mis(sed) Information: Who killed Father Christmas? We Did!

Did you know that Christmas was banned in Berlin in 2013? And have you heard about that time when immigrants looted a Christmas tree in a Western shopping center? No? But surely you must know about the Swedish law that bans Christmas lights to avoid angering Muslim refugees. Still not ringing any Christmas bells? No? That is because all of these bizarre headlines constitute a part of the fake news that are cursing the internet and our minds. However, fake news and alternative facts are not the only way in which misinformation spreads.

Today when you are enjoying the beginning autumn, and the first Christmas ads are popping up in the stores, we will discuss how news get to us, and why every one of us is affected by misinformation. This article is not about weird Christmas headlines, but about the headlines we don’t read.

Net neutrality

In order to talk about missed information, we need to clarify, how certain topics reach us. And net neutrality, a lovely alliteration, is the means which should provide us, the internet users, with neutral and unbiased search results. However, search algorithms are shaped by and based upon our personal search history. Therefore, it often happens that some information, and not only cat videos but at times very relevant information, slips through the world wide web.

So, when we look something up, different websites are ranked by both google search algorithms as well as by our personal preferences. And, as all of us know, nobody looks up the search hits on page 36, right? Moreover, more and more people use social media as their primary news source. Since you actively shape for instance your facebook news feed, you actually end up with narrow and single-minded stories. Hence, a lot of information will never reach you.

Prioritisation and Missed Information

The same goes for TV news and newspapers, since they need to prioritise the news in order to cover what they deem to be the most important information. Different shows and newspapers are made for a specific audience, catering towards their backgrounds and political preferences. That way the same event is reported in different ways, or events are not reported at all.

Additionally, a study by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) on local newspapers claims that the vast majority of the news was essentially repetitive with less than 20 percent of all news actually containing new information. And even if you do look at a variety of sources, your personal bias influences the types of news you look out for, actively remember and act upon. For instance our so called “negative bias“ makes us hear and remember mainly bad news.

Father Christmas Is Still Alive

Everytime fake news that made their round on public or social media are debunked, there is an outcry of indignation. Who could have known that no Christmas tree has been set ablaze on purpose? Who could have known that Christmas is still legal? We should have bought some decoration after all! And why would anybody knowingly spread these lies in the first place? What can we do? Yet, as you know now, there are much more subtle mechanisms through which bias is introduced into our daily news consumption. And Father Christmas might be still alive after all and is waiting on page 36 of google.

 

By Julia Glathaar

Photo Credits

Wanted: Santa Claus, Kevin Dooley (CC BY 2.0)

Net Neutrality, Free Press Action Fund (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)