Pushing social change in the age of alternative facts

During a debate session of one of my other classes this semester, we talked about the crime rate of undocumented immigrants. One of my classmates presented us with a long list of data, illustrating how undocumented immigrants commit a lot more violent crimes. I was very suspicious of the numbers, because New York City is one of the safest cities in the country with one of the lowest crime rate, and yet New York City has a lot of undocumented immigrants. So I looked into the source of her data, it is from a right wing think tank. So I can’t help but wonder how credible these data are. This think tank claims to be a non-partisan non-profit organization. But all of the researches published on its websites are anti-immigration. So I would not trust data published by an organization that is so one sided.

I think in this age of alternative facts, we can either choose to be lazy and be a passive information receiver, or we can take initiatives to fact check every data and every social research result presented to us. The choice is ours and the democracy of this country depends on us taking the initiatives.

I grew up in China where every piece of news is censored. State media organizations control the news people read and listen to, they also fabricate data to brainwash Chinese citizens into thinking China is the best country in the world, while the rest of the world is suffering. There is no such thing as freedom of speech in China where expressing anything anti-government publicly means jail time or even death. So when I moved to the United States, freedom of speech to me is a very precious thing. It saddens me to see the democracy of the U.S has been compromised by fake news spread by trolls on social media platforms. I think social researchers have a responsibility in this critical time to regain the trust of the public through fact-based research.

In a perfect world, there should be more funding for social research so that researchers don’t have to heavily rely on funding from interest groups with hidden agendas. But we live in a capitalist world where money can not only buy votes, it can also buy data, scientists, researchers and their results. Hate to end this blog on such a bleak note, but this is the reality we live in.


  1. Everyday I see countless numbers of fake news being shared on social media. Some shared because it’s funny, others shared because they believe it, but very few fact checked. It’s dangerous to share news, particularly fake news and fake research, on social media. You never know who will actually believe it. However, recently I noticed that underneath some articles there are “fact-check” article. It either states true or fake underneath the article and when click on it you can read why it is true or false. Personally, I think it’s an improvement. At the minimum, it makes social media users pause before sharing the article.
    I agree, that in an ideal world, scientists should have enough funding to be able to independently and unbiasedly work on their research projects. But we are not. Thus, it is important to teach people how to fact check. As psychology students we now know that it’s important to look at the titles or credits page of the research report to check for the sponsors, their interests, and the researchers’ affiliations, so we can evaluate the evidences thoroughly (PSU WC, 2019, L.13). Hence, if people are trained to fact check, they will likely do so before spreading the fake news all over social media. We have learned in this class and other psychology classes that when people know better, they tend to do better. I would love to see students being educated, as early as middle school, on the danger of spreading fake news on social media, how to evaluate evidence based from opinion based research, and the biases that researchers could potentially have. This education could change social media users’ fundamental behavior, provide knowledge, change policy, and create a new norms regarding social media and research reports; similar to Jeff Jordan’s, president & executive creative director of rescueagency.com, approach.

    Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2019). PSYCH 424 : 
Applied Social Psychology, Lesson 13: Social Change/Participatory Research. Retrieved on November 19, 2019 from: https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008549/modules/items/27030759

    Rescueagency. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2019, from https://rescueagency.com/

  2. I found your post to be very interesting. One medium where there is a lot of fake news is Facebook. I see a lot of posts on psychology topics but when I check the references there is a lot of information that is left out. Some of these articles use half truth and half fiction. Unfortunately many people do not check references and may not want or know how to read statistical data. I feel that it is important to question news articles and check references.

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