Checking LADBible

Introduction

For the course Data and (Mis)communication, four (at that time inexperienced) fact checkers went on an investigation spree. As a fact-checking source, the team chose LADbible, which is a news website that originates from the UK. It has a whopping amount of followers on Facebook, namely 34,5 million, that’s double the amount of Dutch citizens!

LADbible is different from ‘regular news’ platforms like BBC, NOS or Nu.nl. The website focuses on male readers, but according to a recent study, it can also be linked to a broader culture of sexual objectification, which causes sexist and misogynist behaviours (Phipps & Young, 2013). One example of a news article is, for instance, “Important Research Reveals The Favourite And Least Favourite Celebrations” (LADbible, 2018).  Besides being a doubtful source, LADbible also uses clickbait as a form of attracting readers. A clickbait is a spicy headline that sparks the interest of potential readers, while at the same time the content of the article can be disappointing for the reader. After finding four articles that raised some serious doubts from reading the title or the introduction, the team was on its way.

 

Methodology

All four group members chose one article that raised some serious doubts. After thoroughly reading the articles the fact-checking project could really begin. For this fact-checking project, the Science Literary Project was used as an example of how to do a fact-checking project. We looked up information, checked sources and even sent emails to authors to ask for clarification. The main findings of this fact-checking project can be found below.

 

Articles

The four articles that have been fact-checked are:

  • Poo found in ice at Wetherspoon and Slug and Lettuce By BBC Watchdog Investigation
  • NASA Releases Picture Of ‘Flying Saucer From Outer Space That Crash-Landed On Earth
  • School Bans Pupils From Wearing Expensive Coats To Stop ‘Poverty Shaming’
  • American Missionary Killed With Arrows By Tribe On Indian Island

 

Main findings

 

Poo found in ice at Wetherspoon and Slug and Lettuce By BBC Watchdog Investigation

 

It turns out that the first article ‘Poo found in ice at Wetherspoon and Slug and Lettuce By BBC Watchdog Investigation’ is a solid clickbait. In this case, the content was also less interesting than the title. Instead of poo, there were potentially faecal bacterias found in the ice. The presence of faecal bacteria does not even mean that there are actual poo bacteria. This was not the only hint of unclear information. The article also mentions a ‘paper’ but it is never made clear which paper the author is talking about.
Furthermore, the article contained some half-truths, like the chain named in the article. The faecal bacteria were found in Slug and Lettuce but also at different places in the UK. It turns out that LADbible wanted to attract people with this piece of news, but the content was disappointing and not completely true.

 

NASA Releases Picture Of ‘Flying Saucer From Outer Space That Crash-Landed On Earth

 

After fact checking the NASA article, some fragments appeared to not add up. The problem with LADbible is the way they present information. The article seems to give mystery to the events that happened, making the reader unsure if the crash-landing was part of a NASA project or something more. The way the story builds suggesting a UFO, to then claiming it is a NASA mission, and the finally leaving with an ex-NASA employee who thinks the government cover-up ‘such encounters’ can be very misleading and suggestible.
Furthermore, LADbible quoting ‘NASA’ should be more defined, maybe they should instead quote ‘APOD’ as this would be more accurate. The way this article has been written could be seen as a good way to get people to question the news and articles they read, as there are two distinct sides of the story. In the end, it isn’t so much the facts that are untrue, but the way the author presents the information to the reader.

 

School Bans Pupils From Wearing Expensive Coats To Stop ‘Poverty Shaming’

 

This article struck the attention of readers by the notion ‘poverty-shaming’. Nowadays different kinds of shaming are trending, but poverty shaming was a new one for us. The article contains true facts, but it is less extensive than similar articles from The Huffington Post or the BBC.  This means that the school actually exist and they did alter their uniform policy in an attempt to get a grip on poverty shaming. So, the facts of the articles were true.
The problem with the article is the fact that it presents information vaguely. For instance, when sources are quoted in the article, the author tends to not name names or the platforms from which they cited his quotes. The author simply says ‘a spokesperson’ said […], but this cannot be checked because the name of the source is not mentioned or the event where the alleged spokesperson said this. So, the problem is not the information but the way it is presented; a reader could have serious questions after reading it.

 

American missionary killed with arrows by tribe on Indian island

 

There were some problems with the clearness of information in this piece of the article. The article says John was shot with arrows, while what really happened, according to the fishermen, is that he was shot with arrows, then he had a rope tied around his neck and dragged into the jungle. So it is unclear if he was already dead because of arrows or maybe something else happened in the jungle.

The audio in the video was full of misinformation. For example, a big point in the video is that the Sentinelese are the very last tribe ever that has not yet had communication with the outside world, which is false. They are ‘one of the last’ indigenous tribes, but if you go into the Amazon forest or to Papua New Guinea there are some 100 more. Another point that the video makes is how violent the tribe are. The article states that the first ever known encounter with the tribe was violent as those people were attacked by arrows. Again not true. The first contact was made by the British, they abducted six people (two adults and four children) from the tribe and took them to another island. The adults almost immediately died of illness and soon after the children were returned to the island. The final part of the article revolved around what happened in the end. The journalist says that the fishermen returned the next morning to find his body on the seashore. This makes it sound like the fishermen went ashore (which is impossible due to the km wide ban around the island) and also that his body was retrieved. Both of these statements are not true.

So all in all this is not a majorly trustworthy article, it is noteworthy that this article was published 1-2 days before all of the ‘big articles’ and is one of the first articles that says the man was a missionary (most articles before the date name him a ‘tourist’ or just ‘man’), I think that the big articles wanted to fact check some more before they brought the news, maybe this article should have waited for a little bit longer with publishing to get the fact straighter.

 

General conclusion

It turns out that most of the time the authors of the LADbible team do base their articles on somewhat real information. An example is the article of the American missionary that was killed by arrows. LADbible probably wanted to be the first one to bring this news into the world, but by doing so they misinterpreted some information. Especially the video that was posted with the article stated some untrue information.

The biggest problem with LADbible  is the way that they present this information. They use click-baits, ‘forget’ to name sources and are overall not clear in the way they word the articles. This way people are not completely misinformed, but they do not get the real information or the true facts either. So lads, beware, the LADbible is not the only holy book for you!

 

Literature

Phipps, A., & Young, I. (2013). That’s what she said: women students’ experiences of ‘lad
culture’ in higher education.

 

Websites

Jongsma, J. (n.d.). Science Literary Project, retrieved on 2 December 2018 on: http://www.scienceliteracyproject.org/content/fact-checking-essentials

 

Advertenties

Cancer Cure Conspiracy?

Sometimes, on a school night when I am once again procrastinating the huge amount of schoolwork I still have to do, I go on the internet and I search for the newest conspiracy theories, just to have a laugh. Because really, most of these theories are just downright ridiculous. Some allege that the Holocaust never happened. Others claim that Planet Earth is flat. There is even a theory that claims that some of the celebrities that we know are actually lizard shape-shifters. But there is one that, instead of making me laugh, made me worry a little bit. For there seem to be people who actually believe that the cure for cancer has been found ages ago by pharmaceutical companies. And these conspiracy theorists seem to think that the pharmaceutical companies have kept this cure a secret in order to keep making money off of the people who are diagnosed with cancer.

The Big Pharma Conspiracy Theory

This conspiracy theory, also known as the Big Pharma Conspiracy, has existed for years. Believers of this theory claim that pharmaceutical companies suppress natural cures for deathly diseases such as cancer on the principle that they are not patentable and therefore not profitable to sell to patients. So, theorists claim, the Big Pharma Companies instead distribute only patented, expensive, and less effective drugs to the patients in order to keep making high profit. Big Pharma refers to “abstract entity comprised of corporations, regulators, NGOs, politicians, and often physicians, all with a finger in the trillion-dollar prescription pharmaceutical pie” (Blaskiewicz, 2013).

So now, we’ve established that there are people who believe that these Big Pharma companies are actually keeping thousands of people terminally ill, just for the reason to make profit. But what is a conspiracy theory really?

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Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories usually contain ‘stigmatized knowledge’, that is, knowledge that has not been accepted by those institutions we normally rely upon for truth validation, for example Universities. Rejection by authorities such as the government is a sign for the believers that a conspiracy theory must be true (Barkun, 2016). According to Barkun, conspiracy theories are intellectual constructs. Some conspiracy theories seek to explain a single event, such the assassination of John F. Kennedy or an airplane crash. Others attempt to impose order on a wider range of phenomena. This is the type of conspiracy theory that the Big Pharma Conspiracy Theory falls into.

This conspiracy theory has a rather basic plot; a small group of people (the Big Pharma Companies) are secretly working against the public good. Also, as Keeley (1999) also proposes, a curious features of conspiracy theories is that evidence against a certain theory is actually construed as evidence in favour of the conspiracy theory. Think about it; the more evidence that is piled up by the authorities in favour of a given theory, the more the conspiracy theorist points to how badly “they” must want us to believe their official story, and so they create a conspiracy theory against the story produced by the authorities.

Is The Big Pharma Conspiracy True?

No it isn’t, according to Blaskiewicz (2013). He argues that, while there may be some small facts that are underlying the theory, the theory itself cannot be true for various reasons. For one, natural products are widely available, and Big Pharma companies do not put a stop to this. If they were truly hiding a supposed cancer cure, then the Big Pharma companies would do anything to suppress anyone outside their industry from selling natural ‘cures’. Also, as Dunning (2017) poses, between the 1970’s and 1980’s, Laetrile was being researched as a possible cure for cancer. While theorists say that, when proven successful, the drug was then ‘suppressed’, in all reality, the drug has been scientifically proven to have caused cyanide poisoning for some people, and therefore the FDA banned the drug. Dunning (2017) argues that the only cases of a drug being ‘suppressed’ by the Big Pharma is when these drugs are overtly proven to be toxic to humans. In addition, Americans spend roughly the same amount of money anually on drugs that have been patented by the Big Pharma as they do on ‘natural cures’ such as vitamin supplements and herbs. So, if the Big Pharma Conspiracy actually exists, it is not very successful…

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All in all, there are various reasons to conclude that there is no reason to believe that big pharmaceutical companies are trying in any way to keep people ill in order to make profit off of them.

What now?

It is safe to say that a conspiracy theory claiming that Justin Bieber is actually a shape-shifting lizard is quite harmless. Just like the conspiracy theories that says Avril Lavigne has been dead for years and is actually being impersonated by a doppelganger. And I definitely don’t mind the existence of these theories. If anything, they are quite entertaining to read. But conspiracy theories like the Big Pharma Conspiracy? I think theories that allege that the government, or pharmaceutical companies are letting hundreds of thousands of people die, just to make profit, is taking it too far.

Conspiracy theories a danger to society

Therefore, I believe that conspiracy theories like these can actually be a danger to society when too many people start believing them, because it is very difficult to prove to these people that the theories are not actually true. As Keeley (1999) suggests, evidence against the conspiracy theory actually makes conspiracy theorist believe in their theory even more. So, we cannot convince conspiracy theorists that their theory is not true. When more and more people start believing theories like these, this is actually a danger to society, because people might lose trust in the healthcare system that is supposed to help us. Also, Blaskiewicz (2013) argues that this conspiracy theory is dangerous, because it is being used by peddlers of alternative medicine who are trying to get people who believe in this theory to buy their ‘natural cure’ that is being ‘suppressed’ by the Big Pharma. In addition, Goertzel (1994) conducted a research in which 348 participants indicated whether they believed in 10 selected conspiracy theories. The majority of these participants believed in conspiracy theories. This shows that people may be more susceptible to conspiracy theories than one might think.

Food for Thought

This may be interesting food for thought, and I invite you to think about this the next time you are procrastinating your ton of school work: Do you believe conspiracy theories like these are dangerous? What can we do to stop people from believing theories like these?

 

 

References

Barkun, M. (2016). Conspiracy theories as stigmatized knowledge. Diogenes, 0392192116669288.

Blaskiewicz, R. (2013). The Big Pharma conspiracy theory. Medical Writing22(4), 259-261.

Dunning, September 2017. Retrieved from: https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4589

Goertzel, T. (1994). Belief in conspiracy theories. Political Psychology, 731-742.

Keeley, B. L. (1999). Of conspiracy theories. The Journal of Philosophy96(3), 109-126.

Wood, M. J., Douglas, K. M., & Sutton, R. M. (2012). Dead and alive: Beliefs in contradictory conspiracy theories. Social Psychological and Personality Science3(6), 767-773.

The Evil and Joy of Life and Choice

NO THANK YOU, MA’AM
A few weeks ago on a Wednesday afternoon, I walked home from the train station in Eindhoven. While walking home, I saw from the corner of my eye that I was being approached by a woman who was handing out brochures about the greatness of Christianity. I smiled politely at the woman, at the same time silently debating with myself if there was a way I could get out of the situation without coming across as rude, and without having to accept a brochure I didn’t want. While wordlessly communicating with my eyes ‘please leave me alone’, I could see that the brochure she was trying to give me was called ‘Het Kwaad van Abortus’ (in English, this translates to ‘The Evil of Abortion’). At first, I was slightly offended, because this woman apparently seemed to think I was pregnant. But then, this title got me thinking. Can this negative frame of abortion actually negatively influence the attitude one has about abortion?

With newly spiked interest, I decided to look a bit further into the ways abortion is being described and defined in articles written by both pro-life and pro-choice writers.

evil and joy

The cover of the brochure, The Evil of Abortion

THE ONGOING DICSUSSION
The discussion about whether abortion is ‘murder’ or not has existed for ages. According to Simon and Jerit (2007), the most important question in this debate is  ‘When does life begin?’. According to supporters of the pro-life community, life begins immediately after conception, whereas, according to pro-choice supporters, life begins when a fetus is more developed. Pro-life supporters are fundamentally against abortion of any sorts, while pro-choice supporters hold the opinion that a woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy if she no longer wants to continue with the pregnancy. This ongoing debate has resulted in many protests, articles and documentaries.

FRAMING
Scheufele and Iyengar (2014) argue that framing results in the behavioural or attitudinal outcomes that are not due to a difference in what is being communicated, but rather to variations in how information is ‘framed’. That is, media provide a focus for reporting a story, and this in turn can influence how audiences will understand or evaluate this information. Supposedly, there are two types of framing. First, there is equivalence framing (Scheufele & Iyengar, 2014), in which the same amount of information in favor of a certain message is available as information against a certain message. According to Entman (1993), not only equivalence framing exists, but also emphasis framing. Emphasis framing is based on selection and salience. This implies that you select the information that you want to emphasize. Valenzuela et al. (2017) distinguish between four possible types of emphasis frames. The most effective one according to the results of their experiment, morality frames, are very relevant in the discussion about abortion, because morality frames tend to put issues in the context of morals and values. This is often used in religion. While these morality frames are very succesfull according to Valenzuela et al. (2017), we have to be critical and think to ourselves whether using morality frames in the abortion discussion enable readers to form an objective opinion.

FRAMING IN ABORTION
Many people are passionately sharing their opinions on abortion via a multitude of media. However, it becomes apparent that writers refer to abortion in many different ways. For example, while reading the National Right to Life News magazine, I discovered that in almost all of the articles words like ‘human being’, ‘small child’ are being used to refer to a fetus. Also, in these articles, a lot of emphasis lies on the ‘murder’, ‘killing’, and ‘felony’ of these ‘small human beings’.

headlines

Some of the headlines of the latest issue of the magazine ‘National Right to Life News’.

In contrast, when visiting the website of the National Abortion Federation, a lot of the brochures and resources use frames like ‘fetus’ and ‘embryo’. Also, these brochures tend to focus more on why terminating a pregnancy could have a positive effect on a woman’s life.

bullets

A snippet of a brochure defending terminating pregnancies.

FRAMING IS EVERYWHERE
Of course, these snippets and headlines were found when reviewing two media with a very outspoken opinion about abortion. But even media with a more neutral take use frames in this ongoing discussion. For example, the New York Times featured an article with the title ‘Why I Provide Abortions’ (Michelle Oberman, June 2018) in which more abortion-positive frames are used, while not shedding as much light on the pro-life viewpoint. This shows that they give the pro-choice community more positive media attention. On the other end of the scale, the Washington Post recently published an article with the title “It is time to take a stand against abortion” (Rebecca Hagelin, July 2018), with negative frames of abortion being incorporated in this article. This shows that not only severely biased media use framing in their articles, but also media that would be expected to have a more neutral take on the topic. This raises the question whether or not this use of framing can influence the attitudes of readers towards abortion.

Yes it can, is the conclusion of Simon and Jerit (2007). Simon and Jerit (2007) studied transcripts of political discourse on partial birth abortions (PBA). PBA refers to an abortion technique which is used during a later term in the pregnancy. They found that supporters and opponents of PBA more often used the words ‘baby’  and ‘fetus’ respectively. They then conducted an experimental study, in which they attempted to establish whether the use of the word ‘baby’ or ‘fetus’ would have an influence on the attitude toward PBA. Simon and Jerit (2007) conclude that word choice in the media does in fact drive citizen’s survey response. The more the media used the word ‘baby’ in their news articles, the more in favor citizens reported to be on banning partial birth abortions.

EFFECTS OF FRAMING
This experiment (Simon & Jerit, 2007) shows that the way media frame their news articles can indeed guide our attitudes. And this is very important to be aware of. Simon and Jerit (2007) are not the only ones to conclude that framing has an effect on attitude. As Kahneman (2003) concludes, participants interpret a stimulus in line with the bias of the frame. In the context of this abortion discussion, that could mean that readers might feel different about abortion depending on the frame that is used in a message.

BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR FRAMING
Having reviewed the literature and spending lots of time browsing the internet and reading different articles in different frames, it becomes apparent that this abortion discussion will most likely never be resolved. And one of the main reasons for this is because framing exists. Both pro-life and pro-choice supporters will never quit framing the message according to the bias that they hold. More importantly, I believe that the use of emphasis framing in the abortion discussion is the most important reason why this ongoing discussion will never be resolved. This is because writers underline and select the information that they want to communicate and diminish counterarguing information. This is actually food for thought. Is emphasis framing causing us to stop forming objective opinions, and should it therefore be banned from ethical and/or moral discussion in order to stop people from being influenced? I invite you to think about this when reading articles about the pros and cons of abortion!

References

Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of communication43(4), 51-58.

Hagelin, R. 2018. Washington Times. ‘It’s Time To Take A Stand Against Abortion’. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jul/22/its-time-to-take-a-stand-against-abortion/

Kahneman, D. (2003). Maps of bounded rationality: Psychology for behavioral economics. American economic review93(5), 1449-1475.

Teenage Women, Abortion and Law. National Abortion Federation. Retrieved from: https://5aa1b2xfmfh2e2mk03kk8rsx-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/teenage_women.pdf

National Right to Life News, August 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.nrlc.org/uploads/NRLNews/August2018NRLNews.pdf

Oberman, M. 2018. New York Times. ‘Why I Provide Abortions’. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/31/opinion/sunday/abortion-banned-latin-america.html

Scheufele, D.A., & Iyengar, S. (2014). The State of Framing Research: A Call for
New Directions. K. Kenski, & K.H. Jamieson (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of
Political Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Simon, A. F., & Jerit, J. (2007). Toward a theory relating political discourse, media, and public opinion. Journal of communication57(2), 254-271.

Valenzuela, S., Piña, M., & Ramírez, J. (2017). Behavioral effects of framing on
social media users: How conflict, economic, human interest, and morality
frames drive news sharing. Journal of Communication, 67, 803-826.