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Falling for Fake News is Easier Than We Think

In the past few years, misinformation has been running more rampant than ever. From politics to Covid-19, fake news is ever-present online, particularly on social media. It’s easy to brush this aside: “I would never fall for these lies”, we may think. However, studies on the psychology of truth and belief suggest something different. Namely, that any of us can fall for misinformation—and it happens a lot faster, and with more ease, than we might expect. This is often due to the illusory truth effect.

What is the Illusory Truth effect?

Also known as the “Truth by Repetition Effect” or the “Mere Exposure Effect”, this phenomenon happens when we are exposed to an idea multiple times. When presented with something enough times (true or false), we start to believe it’s true. The illusory truth effect happens when you believe something is true despite it being false, after seeing it enough times—hence the truth becoming merely an “illusion”.

Not only does this effect work if the information is implausible, it even works if you already know that the information is not true. The effect also works similarly across developmental groups—anyone from a five year old to a fify-five year old are similarly impacted by the repetition of false statements. 

One study showed that a statement only has to be repeated twice to dramatically increase its believability. After the second repetition, the statement still becomes more believable, but there are diminishing returns on its believability.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, author Daniel Kahneman writes that even an incomplete statement can increase the believability of a completed statement. For example, “people…repeatedly exposed to the phrase “the body temperature of a chicken”” were more likely to believe a statement of the form “the body temperature of a chicken is X degrees”—showing that “partial familiarity” is enough to increase believability.

Why is it important?

Groups trying to push a certain message (ranging from advertisers to conspiracy theorists) are definitely well aware of this effect. The use of this effect can be fairly innocuous, like trying to get you to buy a hamburger. However, when used in conjunction with misinformation, the illusory truth effect can be detrimental to the public’s understanding of important topics, such as public health information. 

The illusory truth effect does not have to be used intentionally to work: even unintentionally sharing misinformation increases the believability of a claim. This is why it’s important to check sources and facts before sharing information—or even choosing to not share at all. 

How can you combat it?

According to research conducted by professors of psychology at Harvard and Duke University, one of the best ways to combat the illusory truth effect is by fact checking the first time you see a new piece of information. Initially asking ourselves “is this true?” and seeking out this information prevents the illusory truth effect from taking effect.

Questions to consider (will add later)

  • Have you encountered the illusory truth effect? Were you able to avoid believing the false information?
  • Can you think of ways the illusory truth could be used in malicious ways? Could there be benefits to the illusory truth effect?
  • What could encourage us to fact check the first time we see a dubious piece of information?

Want to learn more about misinformation? Check out these resources:


Written by: Eden Solarik

Edited by: Alex Kuskowski

Featured Image: created with DALLE-2

Poverty and Privacy: An Inverse Relationship (Part 2)

If you haven’t already, you may want to read part 1 of this series first. 

In the first part of this series, we discussed the ways in which people experiencing poverty are subjected to higher levels of surveillance, especially in a work context. We also explored the idea that wealth, while not necessarily decreasing how much one is surveilled, impacts the control one has over their surveillance. 

This section stays with the theme of poverty’s intersections with surveillance—but this time we take a look at online forms of surveillance. People experiencing poverty face numerous kinds of online surveillance, varying from brand loyalty programs to free wifi with less protections against hacking. Students who are seeking scholarships may be vulnerable to having their data collected from third-party websites, and the high price of home internet pushes people to use less-secure public wifi hotspots.

Loyalty Programs

If you’re Canadian, chances are you have a PC Optimum card. For our non-Canadian readers, this is a loyalty program that allows customers to collect ‘points’ when they make purchases at a variety of different stores across Canada, owned by Loblaws. Similar programs exist across the world—both for in-person and online retailers. While they may vary in the setup of the program (do you receive points or stars? Does accumulating points get you a discount, in-store cash, or a free item?) One thing remains similar to all: they’re “free”. 

While these programs are technically free, brands have another motivation for offering discounts and points. And no, it’s not to increase customer loyalty, as they want us to believe. These programs are essentially a trade program—exchanging consumer data for lowered costs. There are two main issues with this: customers are not made aware of this exchange, and people experiencing poverty are more vulnerable to this form of mundane surveillance. 

I have signed up for loyalty programs on a number of occasions. As a university student with a part-time job (and cost of living prices that are skyrocketing!), the allure of free stuff is often too good to turn down. As someone who is aware of the pervasiveness of mundane surveillance, I’ll admit that I don’t read the terms and conditions of the programs I sign up for. Many people are not aware of the fact that our data is being harvested through these programs—and signing up is giving them a green light to access our information, whether we read the T&C or not. 

These programs have the potential to target lower-income populations. When the choice is between mundane surveillance but getting cheaper food, or not being surveilled and higher food costs, many will choose the loyalty program. Many more will not even have the option to choose—the difference could mean going hungry. On top of this, a Pew Research study found that lower-income households are more likely to find this arrangement acceptable.

Public Wifi

Wifi is expensive, and Canada has some of the most expensive internet prices in the world. Due to this, many are forced to turn to free public wifi in order to complete necessary tasks. Tasks like paying bills have largely shifted to online platforms. However, these are some of the riskiest online activities to do when using public wifi. For example, the US National Security Agency warns employees to not access any sensitive information when using public wifi. There are two main risks when using public wifi: data collection and hacking

Public wifi networks are available in stores, stations, and restaurants. However, many of these are owned by brands who can track your browsing history when using this public wifi. This data is useful for brands to collect on their customers. Knowing browsing habits is like peering into the mind of a person, and this is exactly what brands want in order to targets ads more effectively. Data collection is often a trade off that customers make (knowingly or otherwise) when they use free wifi. 

There are also security issues that come with using public wifi. Unlike home wifi, the security of public networks is much more dubious. This means that if accessing sensitive information like online banking, bad agents can intercept this information and use it to gain access to things like financial information. If someone is only able to complete important tasks over public wifi, this increases the risk of their personal information being stolen. 

Scholarship Websites

With the rising cost of tuition and living, more and more students are turning to scholarships to support them financially through their studies. While scholarships are generally good at not collecting and sharing personal data, the same cannot be said about privately-run websites that act as an index of available scholarships. Many of these websites collect student data and sell it to third parties, such as colleges and brands wanting to target ads to students.

Not only does this target an already-vulnerable population—young students—but it also has the potential to disproportionately affect students from low-income backgrounds, as scholarship websites offer access to needs-based bursaries. Many students rely partially or completely on financial support to fund their studies, and these predatory websites leverage this to collect their data. Similarly to loyalty programs, these websites often view this as a worthy trade off. However, we must question how this sort of surveillance and data collection targets historically surveilled populations, and how it encourages this surveillance to endure in the digital age.

 

Whether it be loyalty programs, unsecured public wifi, or scholarship websites, there is less privacy for populations experiencing poverty. This is not the only group that experiences these forms of surveillance, though. As we have seen, students are also more vulnerable to these forms of surveillance. Interestingly, surveillance is becoming more of the norm for everyone. We are now seeing the rise of “luxury surveillance“—pricey devices that collect data in exchange for an (often merely small) improvement in daily life. The era we are in marks a shift from the surveillance of the oppressed, to the surveillance of all. While people could once buy their way out of surveillance (which to an extent is still possible), we are now all inextricably tied to our devices. Devices which, because of their design, do not allow us to buy privacy.


Written by: Eden Solarik

Edited by: Lucas Wright

Featured Image: Created with Open AI’s DALL-E 2

Poverty and Privacy: An Inverse Relationship (Part 1)

We are living in an era where privacy has become less and less of a given: the default is now surveillance. From doorbell cameras to smart assistants, TikTok to Google calendar, we’re constantly being monitored and tracked. However, there are some groups who are afforded more privacy—who can buy more privacy—than the rest of the population. On the flip side, there are also groups who are at a privacy disadvantage. Socioeconomic standing factors into access to private spaces (both online and in the real-world).

This is particularly relevant to students. Students have less income than the average population, and therefore are more vulnerable to predatory tactics from companies. However, students often come from households with higher household incomes than the average population.

This post will focus on the interactions between surveillance and poverty, with an emphasis on the technologies used in physical spaces (as opposed to online surveillance) and their correlation with poverty. This is the first half of a two-part post. In the next post, we will explore how surveillance in online spaces increases with poverty, concluding by asking whether the surveillance will continue to largely target underprivileged groups—or if it is now affecting everyone. 

Video Surveillance

Video surveillance is becoming ever-pervasive. The amount of security cameras in cities is already staggering, and only continuing to rise. Exemplifying just how often we are on camera, one artist created a project in which he used open security cameras to find the moment when people captured photos for Instagram. On top of this, the purchasing of privately-owned security cameras is on the rise. In 2021 alone, Amazon’s Ring sold more than 1.7 million units. As income decreases, so does control of surveillance. Costing around $50-$100+, the target demographic of security cameras is middle class consumers. While they are accessible to underprivileged groups as well, there is also an infrastructure needed to set up these security systems (wifi, a phone, etc). This means that there is a greater likelihood of these devices being present in middle- and upper-class areas.Security cameras in low income neighbourhoods are likely to be owned by businesses, government, and law enforcement, instead of private citizens.

Control of surveillance does not equate to privacy, but there is a salient difference between being surveilled by your own camera, and being surveilled by someone else’s. As the owner of, say, a Ring doorbell or security camera, you have the ability to keep footage, delete footage, review and share footage, or even remove the camera entirely. If you are being surveilled, you have no agency in the surveillance process: you are a passive object on camera. Human rights activist groups have been sounding the alarm bell on video surveillance for years. An article published by the ACLU in 2002 outlined the potential for misuse and abuse of surveillance footage. The worries they raised are even more palpable today—the issues we are facing have the potential to reinforce, and intensify, socioeconomic and racial power imbalances that have persisted for decades.

Workplace Surveillance

Employee surveillance is increasing across different employment sectors. This is particularly evident in lower paying jobs. 

Many of us have read about the 1984-esque conditions that Amazon workers are subjected to on the job. Everything—from time-off-task to the length of their bathroom breaks—is monitored. This has been one of the contributing factors to the unionisation efforts at many amazon fulfilment centres. Warehouse employees are monitored with AI video cameras that make sure workers stay six feet apart at all times. Drivers are monitored “100% of the time” with a four-camera AI system called Driveri—reportedly used in other transport trucks across the country. This experience is not unique to Amazon employees. 

Truckers are another example—they are chronically underpaid, overworked, and highly surveilled. Trucking is viewed by some as a means of escaping poverty, but many truckers sacrifice family lives, health, and privacy for a living wage. Trucks are equipped with a range of sensors, from cameras tracking eye movements to sensors monitoring the braking patterns of drivers. This is partially an effort to increase the safety of the drivers and those on the road around them, but the question should be raised: is the tradeoff of privacy for safety worth it?

Even working from home doesn’t necessarily mean a worker is safe from surveillance. For example, call centre employees in Colombia reported being forced to sign contracts that allowed their company to install security cameras in their home workspace—which sometimes amounts to putting security cameras in their bedroom. 

 

Poverty plays a significant role in the way one is surveilled—not only the frequency of surveillance, but also the nature of surveillance. In this sense, privacy is becoming a commodity that is acquired through socioeconomic standing. This is present through video surveillance of everyday life, as well as surveillance of workers in job settings. This is also present in online spaces, which is the focus of the second part of this article (being posted Friday, October 21st).

Further Considerations:

  • How do you think control of surveillance changes the impacts of surveillance? Do you think there is a power imbalance between the surveiller and the surveilled? Who should be considered the surveiller—the owner of the camera or the company that sells it?
  • How do you think surveillance reinforces the cycle of poverty?
  • Are there ethical implications to surveillance? Does it change if it is by individuals, universities, companies, or law enforcement?

Written by: Eden Solarik

Edited by: Lucas Wright

Featured Image: Photo by Andrew Stickelman on Unsplash

New to Digital Tattoo? Start Here!

As students and faculty are returning to campus, our use of online technology is increasing—from connecting to peers on social media, to using platforms such as Canvas and Google Workspace for coursework. Though we use these tools frequently, how often do we think about our privacy on these platforms, or our digital identity online? That’s where we come in! The Digital Tattoo Project has lots of resources to help you manage your digital identity and project yourself online.

What is the Digital Tattoo Project?

The Digital Tattoo Project is a collaborative project between UBC and the University of Toronto (UofT). The main focus of the project is provoking thought and conversation about your presence online, offering advice about forming your digital identity, and letting you know your rights and responsibilities as an online citizen. 

The project is a students-as-partners project—meaning that all of the content is created  by undergraduate and graduate students at the University of British Columbia and The University of Toronto. Students also partner with library and educational staff to determine the direction and the approach of the site.

How can I use your site?

Our website has been around since the project started in 2008—which means we have a lot of content. We’ve rounded up some interesting articles and activities you can find on our site 

Check us out on social media—where we share interesting articles we find, update you on our latest content, and sometimes even play around with DALL-E 2


Written by: Eden Solarik

Edited by: Lucas Wright

Feature Image: UBC Brand & Marketing

Does BeReal Curate Inauthentic “Authenticity”?

The first time I encountered BeReal, I was on a bus going to downtown Vancouver. I noticed a woman sitting in front of me take a photo of herself, and then angle her phone to quickly take a photo out the window. At first I was confused as to what she was doing. A couple days later, I realised she was taking a BeReal. 

What is BeReal?

A photo of a hand doing a peace sign on an outdoor patio surrounded by trees. In the top left corner, another photo of a woman taking a selfie is overlaid.

A mock-BeReal post

BeReal is a social media app that was released in 2020. The new feature of this app is that, at a random point in the day, it sends a notification that the user has 2 minutes “to BeReal”—meaning they must take a front- and back-facing photo within those 2 minutes, or their post will be marked as “late”.

Until the user posts, they can’t see their friends’ BeReals. After they post, they can comment on and react to the posts by snapping a selfie of their reaction. 

Why is BeReal popular with Gen Z?

BeReal has exploded in popularity in the past few months. What was once just another obscure social media app now has 10 million daily users. A large portion of its worldwide user base is part of Gen Z. Gen Z has become accustomed to information overload—from influencers, advertisers, and even friends. As a result, they now often distrust inauthentic brands. Similarly, they’ve been demanding more authentic social media experiences. The rocket-fast rise of BeReal therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise, due to a few different aspects of the app:

  • Authenticity: Fabricated or not, BeReal has a more authentic feel than other social media apps. The majority of my friends’ posts are of them at work, or in bed, or on the bus—the occasional person snaps their BeReal out with a friend. Overall, the posts seem to be a better representation of what real life is like. It’s a stark contrast to the perfectly “effortless” photos of Instagram, or the highly edited, algorithm-curated videos of Tiktok. 
  • Privacy: The majority of people I know that have BeReal only have a handful of friends on the app. I think it’s this privacy that allows people to feel more at ease, instead of expecting their post to be seen by hundreds—even thousands—of friends-of-friends.
  • No ads: BeReal is one of the very few social media platforms with no advertisements. For Gen Z, this brings us back to the beginning of Instagram, when the only purpose was to see your friends’ content. Now, Instagram and Tiktok are inundated by brands and influencers trying to push the Next Big Thing—which can become exhausting. 
  • Silliness: Neither the app nor those on it take themselves too seriously. When scrolling through my feed, pictures that people have posted range from a taxidermied monkey in a museum to the tan line on someone’s feet. The fact that the app forces you to take a photo at a specific time means you can get away with posting weirder things than what would be acceptable for a story (which you post voluntarily).

What about privacy?

As with all new apps, we should explore the privacy settings and their implications. BeReal has a leg up in privacy, as it is a French app. This means that it falls under the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). This law is considerably better than the laws that currently govern other social media companies, such as Meta (Facebook and Instagram), Twitter, and Tiktok.

BeReal has additional privacy-protecting features as well. Your account doesn’t have to be linked to your name—you can sign up with a random username and not include your last name in the “name” category. Additionally, posts are only up on BeReal for 24hrs, and you’re notified when someone screenshots your post. 

BeReal, however, is not immune to privacy concerns. The biggest worry is that the app encourages you to share your location when you share a post. You can refuse to share location data with the app, but it is still the default for the app. It would be an improvement if the app protected user privacy from the outset, and the location sharing was an optional opt-in feature.

The second issue is less related to the app itself, and more related to how people are using it. There is a trend online of people asking strangers to take their BeReals. When taking a photo on BeReal, it’s not obvious that it’s also taking a front-facing photo. This means that when people ask strangers to take their BeReal, they also snap a selfie of the helpful stranger.

Is BeReal here to stay?

BeReal has managed to fill a niche that has been lacking lately—a social media platform that gives you an “authentic” view into the lives of your close friends. It has positioned itself in opposition to mainstream social media platforms that encourage a curated presentation of a user’s life. 

However, some have questioned whether this “authentic” social media app can keep up this facade in the long term. I’ll be the first to admit that if BeReal notifies me at 7:30am, I at least wait until I’m out of bed and have brushed my hair before posting. While the idea of online authenticity is appealing, the reality is a bit more harsh. I think it’s possible that, while BeReal has been a hit during the summer (when we’re all carefree and looking tan and happy), users may not be as eager to post during the winter months (when the majority of our time is spent sitting in libraries or lecture halls).

There are two other main issues that could threaten the longevity of BeReal’s success:

  • Money: BeReal prides itself on its lack of ads, and as of yet there are no paid features in the app. (Although this could change, as there is a section in their privacy policy that discusses the purchase of paid features). We have seen the demise of other social media platforms when they do not implement revenue-generating features—hopefully BeReal can learn from others’ past failures.
  • Competition: Just as Instagram copied Snapchat Stories, Instagram is also testing out a BeReal copycat, called “Instagram Candid”. As with Instagram stories, if Candid is released people may start using the in-app feature instead of using a whole separate app—threatening BeReal’s success.

Do you think that authenticity is possible on social media? Are newer social media apps really more authentic and private, or are they the same old wine in a new bottle? Will BeReal be used in the long-term, or is it an internet fad? We’d love to hear what you think.


Written by: Eden Solarik

Edited by: Lucas Wright

Feature Image: Created with DALL-E 2

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