The Psychology of #FakeNews

And what tech can do about it


Future of Fake News

Site done by Radiolab

Project Voco

Audio software from Adobe that lets editors modify audio.

This is still the future...

Voco has not been released...yet

The present

The bubble is powered by social media™

Selective feeds




Link previews




Coverage is based on what is most likely to get a click

Established outlets

source: @JohnLegum

Fake news site

source: buzzfeed

Fake news has been around for a long time

clickbait == yellow journalism

est. 1890s

The psychology of the bubble

System 1 / System 2 thinking

source: Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman

System 1

Fast, automatic, intuitive.


System 2

Analytical, reasoning

It's hard to process information that differs from our beliefs

The Knowledge Illusion

How much do we understand?

We are wired to have shallow knowledge

As people invented new tools for new ways of living, they simultaneously created new realms of ignorance; if everyone had insisted on, say, mastering the principles of metalworking before picking up a knife, the Bronze Age wouldn’t have amounted to much.

Study: Draw a bike

  1. How well do you know bikes?
  2. Draw a bike
  3. How well do you know bikes?
As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding... but it deepens as more people believe this together

source: The Knowledge Illusion

Information Diet

source: Clay Johnson

Information you agree with == stimulating


Information that is challenging == not stimulating

🥗 not yummy


  • Deep beliefs don't require deep understanding
  • Beliefs are empowered if they are experienced in a group
  • We are not likely to seek this challenging information out (requires System 2 thinking)
  • Easier to consume information we agree with (junk food is delicious)

That's how the bubble is made

So, is it tech's fault?

No, because we are wired to think this way

Yes, because tools reinforce the behavior

[t]he Internet was done so well that most people think of it as a natural resource like the Pacific Ocean, rather than something that was man-made. When was the last time a technology with a scale like that was so error-free?

— Alan Kay

What can we do?

Human solutions

Media and tech literacy

"People are smart enough to know it's fake"

Tech solutions

Perspective API

[the] API uses machine learning models to score the perceived impact a comment might have on a conversation.


Outside the Bubble

Blue Feed, Red Feed

source: WSJ

Knight Foundation

Sponsoring more projects that tackle Fake News


Thinking more about psychology and behavior surrounding the tech we build

Disruption is fast

sustainable, long-term change takes time

Thank you!

District 12 represent