It is clear that our society is full of people, organizations, and media spreading misinformation and division. They do this to advance partisan or marketing goals or just to undermine our society. They are succeeding. In our survey responses, we observe around 40% correct answers relating to basic knowledge relating to “basic” facts (before they see factSpread ads). Our key reason for existing is that, as Thomas Jefferson said, an informed electorate is a prerequisite to democracy.
Advocates and salespeople try to make people feel informed rather than informing them. They also paint other groups of people as hostile and dangerous, trying to rally people to become more partisan and more divided (Yudkin). factSpread seeks to counter these damaging disinformation campaigns by spreading true information about topics that are important to the country but not necessarily at the top of the news cycle.
Polarization and ignorance may be mutually reinforcing as seen in figure 1. If all that a person needs to know is that the other disliked group is ridiculous, this can divert them from other learning. Knowing more about issues and trends helps people not to be pulled along by emotional, negative, and misleading appeals.
Figure 1. (a) The likely continued evolution of for-profit media with otherization pressures, (b) the polarization and ignorance reinforcing pressures, and (c) the possible role of factSpread in breaking the feedback loop.
Also, big important issues tend to be complicated. If a person can be persuaded that “it’s all really very simple, just good guys versus bad guys,”, the person will resist learning new facts that might change their position. But then they will also resist the understanding of others’ views that leads to a more civil and unified society.
Maybe the most important issue is that for-profit media seeks to affirm the completeness of the listener’s world view. “You are a complete and correct being. Please watch our toothpaste commercials.” At factSpread, we seek to leave the impression of incompleteness and complication, like science itself. We feel that this will help to reduce ignorance, increase engagement, and make politicians better at their jobs.
The conclusion of this analysis is depicted in Table 1. Whereas for-profit media focus on shareholder profits, factSpread focuses on helping the audience understand. For-profit media seeks to provoke an emotional response, often through otherization. The mission of factSpread is education and not advocacy. Being unconstrained by trying to build tribalism offers a potentially critical advantage. Whereas media sources are often focused on controversial stories or anecdotes, we strive to avoid controversy and focus on trustworthy data. Further, we seek to focus on important facts. Why do people score at 40% on our tests about how government works? Perhaps the answer is because their media ecosystems are too short-term, and personality focused.
Table 1. Summary of the difference between the for-profit media ecosystem and factSpread.
|Appeal||Joy of otherizing||Informative and interesting|
|Nature||Personality & controversy oriented||Fact-focused, impartial|
|Conceit||The listener is complete.||Knowledge & uncertainty help.|
Jacobs, A. (2017). How to think: A survival guide for a world at odds. Currency.
Yudkin, D. A. (2019). Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape.