Consequences of the Media Getting it Wrong
March 17, 2010 2:43 PM   Subscribe

For a writing project, I'm researching cases where incorrect information causes individuals to make decisions they would not have otherwise made. The information can be purposely or accidentally inaccurate.

I'm thinking mass-media and large populations, however, that is not a requirement. However, I would prefer true stories as opposed to fiction (like Romeo killing himself after getting the wrong information on Juliet's death).

I think a good example would be the run-up to the Iraq war; however, I would prefer less political divisive issues. Another example could be the vaccine/autism link. In this case, people chose not to vaccinate their children based on the incorrect information on vaccine's links to autism.

Thanks for any ideas you may have that fit the bill.
posted by verevi to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
For a writing project, I'm researching cases where incorrect information causes individuals to make decisions they would not have otherwise made.

I'm thinking mass-media and large populations, however, that is not a requirement.

Sorry to question your premise, but it seems essential that the thesis be limited in some way ... otherwise, it becomes ridiculously trivial ... doesn't wrong information always cause people to make decisions they otherwise would not have made?
posted by jayder at 2:48 PM on March 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd look at the various cognitive biases that infect the financial markets: confirmation bias, sample selection bias, data mining, look-ahead bias, etc.

The financial markets are rife with examples of a huge amount of information leading people to wrong conclusions.
posted by dfriedman at 3:02 PM on March 17, 2010

Yesterday's FPP about Chinese "human flesh search engines" contains some examples of mob-mentality justice, often fueled by exaggerated or biased rumors.

A related topic are so-called "mass incidents" in China, popular uprisings usually against local government officials perceived as corrupt or incompetent. Incorrect or one-sided internet accounts of events are a common catalyst for mass incidents.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:05 PM on March 17, 2010

You could try going harmless with it. There are tons of urban legends to draw on that affect consumer purchasing and dietary choices. For example, some people believe that Arby's roast beef is shipped as a liquid, or that Proctor and Gamble are run by Satan worshippers.
posted by satyricaldude at 3:07 PM on March 17, 2010

The vaccine scare is a good one to look at.
posted by fifilaru at 3:17 PM on March 17, 2010

opps you mention vaccines already. How about all the people buying gold since the world governments and economy is going to collapse any day now.
posted by fifilaru at 3:18 PM on March 17, 2010

i agree with jayder, your basic premise seems to be: information quality informs decision quality.

no one can really argue with that.

perhaps you should begin by better clarifying specifically that at which you're looking.

for example, in this case it sounds like what you might be really interested in, is looking at how the information we use (true and false) exists in hierarchies and how the veracity of some claims is more important than that of others to the decisions we make. for example, in iraq, the possibility that hussein had WMDs made invading iraq more palatable/less-repugnant to some. therefore, the WMD claim, because it was so pivotal, should have been more heavily scrutinized before a decision was reached. so that may not be what you're driving at, but at least an example of a arguable thesis...
posted by DavidandConquer at 3:19 PM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: True Enough by Farhad Manjoo might be worth looking it.
posted by pantarei70 at 3:32 PM on March 17, 2010

Not sure if it's what you're looking for, but there was the Milgram experiment. That's more about respect for authority than misinformation; still, it's quite a famous example of people behaving in a way that they would normally not behave.
posted by _cave at 3:35 PM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: Reminds me of a project I did on Information Cascades. As well as the examples on wikipedia, search for "information cascades tonsillectomies" to get a nice medical example.
posted by ansate at 3:39 PM on March 17, 2010

How about the daycare child abuse craziness in the NE back in the late 80s or early 90s? I believe one of the accused may have committed suicide. I think it was in Rhode Island or CT?

Maybe Audi too. There sales tanked after the media ran with unfounded accusations of unintended acceleration.
posted by COD at 3:42 PM on March 17, 2010

Best answer: There are lots of examples from military history, because it's good strategy to fool the enemy into acting on misinformation. Some examples that I can think of are:
- in WWII, the Allies convinced the Germans they were going to invade near Calais, not Normandy
- also in WWII, the British staged an elaborate hoax to convince the Germans they were going to invade Greece and Sardinia, not Sicily
- the Trojan Horse
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:07 PM on March 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

During my brief adventures on Chatroulette, I met a woman from Xinjiang, China. She seemed entirely reasonable, except that she believed the United States had triggered the Sichuan earthquake with a weapon. In broken Engish, she described it as 'the big atmosphere weapon'. She said that this theory had been discussed in local media and that everyone she knew believed it. We had a rather surreal conversation.
posted by embrangled at 12:25 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

@embrangled was it about darpa and their tesla influenced sky lasers in alaska?

I would consider looking at snopes and anything dealing with conspiracy theories, fraud, or advertising.
posted by beardlace at 1:03 AM on March 18, 2010

Sky lasers? I have no idea. She wasn't the usual tinfoil hat conspiracy theorist, though. She was pretty ordinary, except for this one bizarre belief about the Sichuan earthquake. She claimed the US did it to weaken China's economy.
posted by embrangled at 1:16 AM on March 18, 2010

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