Cause and effect essay sample: Misinformation in the Internet age

A cause and effect essay is a type of essay that seeks to explore a phenomenon through the factors that caused it and the impact it has on society. This type of essay is often used to discuss topics that are considered issues. For more advanced researchers, the cause and effect essay is often a starting point for recommendations on how to solve or prevent an issue.

Here is an example of a cause and effect essay:

The fabrication of falsehoods as a way to manipulate the public is not a new phenomenon. Authoritarian regimes have taken advantage of their authority to control the news that their citizens receive and how each piece of information is received. Some years ago, our society was hopeful that the coming of the Internet age will democratize information. Instead, we find ourselves in the “post-truth era.” 

In this post-truth era, the Internet acts as the instant source of information. Facts are presented along with opinions, conspiracy theories, and so on, making it difficult to determine which are facts or truth and which are fake. The rise of misinformation is due partly to the human affinity for confirmation bias and partly to the algorithm of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter that complements each other. As a result, misinformation has become a monster which, despite not having a head, has begun to move on its own.

Causes of Misinformation

 A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2018 confirmed that social networking sites are the primary source of news by most. Sixty-eight percent get news from social media, despite the fact that 57% of these users consider news from these outlets to be largely inaccurate. It appears that majority of social networking site users are skeptical of the news they encounter, yet there is a high rate of misinformation now. It is thus necessary to examine how people assess the credibility of information they encounter online. 

Americans who get their news on social media

Human nature

A study by Massberg et al. revealed that the readability of an item has a positive effect on the subjective assessment of the credibility of its source. A person may perceive a source or an article as credible if it matches their reading skill level and background. The easier the reader understands the content of an article, the better the cognitive engagement or the more involved the reader becomes, the more time they will spend reading the article, the easier they can be persuaded. These factors, as well as aesthetics of the article and novelty of the content, lead the unsophisticated reader to misinformation.

Humans’ affinity for confirmation bias aggravates the situation. A survey revealed that people are more likely to accept at face value information that confirms their already-existing beliefs and questions those that conflict with their beliefs (Mele et al, 2017). This is true even in the face of facts. In contrast with easy acceptance of any information that is aligned with one’s beliefs, people tend to question information, even hard facts, if it goes against their beliefs.

Thus, individuals who favor their bias in searching for news are more likely to be attracted to misleading sources. The “unsophisticated reader” get preyed on by misleading sources by matching their content with the said reader’s reading ability, aesthetics, and beliefs. Once these readers find each other in a forum or a comments section, it can evolve into groupthink in a matter of seconds.

The role of social media

Before the emergence of social media, traditional print media is, or was, easier to navigate. Publishers had to protect themselves and their brands from libel cases by conducting intensive fact-checking. Biases were not non-existent, but they were usually well-known. The media was run by an oligarchy—there are two or three newspapers or brands that are considered the authorities when it comes to the news. Today, there are numerous outlets that allow most anyone to publish unverified information or straight up fake news and propaganda. Sometimes, all that someone needs is a social media account.

Facebook and Twitter’s algorithms heighten the speed in which misinformation travels. Both websites display posts and tweets based on their “relevance,” which, in turn, is determined by peer engagement. Thus, tweets that have been retweeted, mentioned, and favorite-d are more likely to appear on people’s timelines. This algorithm with the theory of confirmation bias is a deadly combination.

Due to the deluge of information, majority of people’s trust on news outlets has broken down. According to Pew’s study, 10% of Democrats and 70% of Republicans have stopped reading news from certain outlets due to perceived fake news. What the study failed to certify is the type of source the participants cut off. Less politically aware people are 20% more likely to reduce their overall news consumption than their politically aware peers. This demonstrates that people with staunch beliefs are more likely to cut off information they don’t like or don’t align with their beliefs, while people who are getting the least information are getting even less, making them even more susceptible to false information.

Effects of misinformation

Experts have long accepted the notion that facts won’t change people’s minds. Even as studies are published proving the dangerous prevalence of misinformation and its effects, the chances that people and institutions will act to minimize misinformation is improbable. As explained by one executive consultant from North America interviewed by Pew Research “[t]here is no market for truth. The public isn’t motivated to seek out verified, vetted information. They are happy hearing what confirms their views. And people can gain more creating fake information (both monetary and in notoriety) than they can keeping it from occurring.” 

Currently, falsehoods have pushed people further away and into their political or religious beliefs. For every social justice movement fighting for the rights of minorities, a hate group is formed. Following the relative success of the Black Lives Movement’s Black Lives Matter campaign, a counter movement was started, the All Lives Matter movement. Likewise, a straight pride was petitioned by three men in response to Pride Parade

The divide between communities is wider than ever. Not only that, more people are empowered to speak out what they believe is the truth. Arguments have started to seem futile as people filter what they hear. One side only listens to find flaws in the opposite side’s arguments and amplifies it, all while neglecting flaws in their own logic. As a result, there seems to be more socio-cultural hate and violence. 

Conclusion

Misinformation has already taken over our society. Technology, or social media, however, is not the only factor to blame. Humans are as much as fault. Flaws in humans’ psyche and the flexibility of social media were taken advantage of by those with malicious intent. The effort then needs to come from all sides if misinformation is to be subdued. Individuals need to be aware and wary of their tendencies to passively agree and engage with information and opinions that align with theirs. On the other hand, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, need to take responsibility for the content that they allow in their sites so that they don’t become venues for the proliferation of falsehoods and hate.

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