Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Sander van der Linden's "Foolproof"

Sander van der Linden is professor of social psychology in society at the University of Cambridge and a regular advisor to governments and social media companies on fighting misinformation. His research has been featured in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and elsewhere.

Van der Linden applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Foolproof: Why Misinformation Infects Our Minds and How to Build Immunity, and reported the following:
On page 99 of Foolproof, you’ll find the following story:
There is one video, in particular, that has been linked to multiple deaths. In this viral video – which looks like grainy CCTV footage– two young boys are playing cricket near a driveway alongside a fairly empty street. After a short while, a black motorcycle appears with two individuals wearing black helmets. They approach the group of children but then suddenly make a U-turn and disappear from the frame. They reappear a few seconds later and this time the motorcycle stops next to a young boy. The boy was simply a bystander watching the other boys play cricket. The passenger then snatches the kid and wedges the boy between himself and the other passenger while quickly driving off. The other children notice and pursue the motorcycle, albeit unsuccessfully. The video ends with the children returning to the driveway conversing and expressing panic. For all intents and purposes, this looks like a genuine kidnapping.
This story is one example of a whole range of false rumours that went viral on WhatsApp in India and subsequently led to a series of violent mob lynchings. This video turned out to be fake but it nonetheless alarmed local villagers about the possible presence of kidnappers. I think the Page 99 Test does a pretty good job here of characterizing what the book is about: the harmful consequences of misinformation. In fact, page 99 just so happens to illustrate the most violent example in the book of how viral misinformation can lead a whole mob of people to violently attack innocent citizens suspected of kidnapping children. It’s also a nice example of the role of social media in spreading misinformation, which is another big theme that runs throughout the book. What page 99 doesn’t do as much is talk about solutions, though the remainder of the page details how a fact-checker ultimately uncovered that the video was misleading and presented out of context (the full video was actually part of an anti-kidnapping campaign in Pakistan). But if the reader wants to know more about evidence-based solutions grounded in our research, they’ll have to read beyond page 99!
Visit Sander van der Linden's website.

--Marshal Zeringue