The Fake News Problem in One Chart
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Chart: The Fake News Problem

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The Fake News Problem in One Chart

Chart: The Fake News Problem

Peer opinion fills a void left by falling trust in mass media

The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.

There’s been no shortage of blame passed around for the so-called “fake news” epidemic that has been front and center since the U.S. election.

Social media has been singled out as one key factor leading to the spread of misleading or false news. However, low barriers to entry for creating content, hyperpartisanism, confirmation bias, and the echo-chamber effect have also been identified as causes or symptoms in the proliferation of such stories.

It’s certainly a complex problem to unravel, and many proposed solutions are just as alarming as the symptoms they try to treat. The decentralization and fragmentation of information is the core of what makes the internet great, and this democratization helps to decouple power away from the established institutions that may or may not have our interests at heart.

How do we regulate news for its authority and legitimacy without stifling alternate viewpoints, differing narratives, and independent sources of information?

Root Causes

In today’s landscape, people are turning away from traditional media and gravitating towards digital content. In this new digital media paradigm, who is considered a trustworthy and convenient source of information?

As long as they could remain reputable, the mainstream outlets that garnered eyeballs throughout broadcasting history should have been the obvious benefactors of this transition. Groups like CNN and Fox News, or The New York Times and The Washington Post, could have remained unquestioned authorities on the issues.

However, it seems like this opportunity has been recently squandered to some extent. These outlets have been slow to adopt their business strategies to the digital landscape, and they remain in damage control mode as advertising revenues drop and profitability wanes. Publishers have been under immense pressure to generate views, and have taken shortcuts in content creation to do this. Hyperpartisan viewpoints that confirm existing biases (aka, the Huffington Post or Breitbart models) and sensational clickbait headlines have been one easy way to build traffic. Some publishers also have an itchy trigger finger, and it seems that getting a story out first has become more important than verifying its validity.

These above factors have, ironically, led to mass media as being a direct part of the “fake news” problem. The retracted stories on Russian propaganda by the Washington Post have been a lightning rod for scrutiny, and entire posts are dedicated to keeping misleading stories from established media at bay. Having a track record with zero blemishes is obviously a difficult target to hit, but the reality is that we are seeing misleading news from everywhere now: “fake news” outlets, mainstream outlets, and the White House itself.

Falling Trust in Media and Institutions

Even before “fake news” hit the mainstream, a poll by Gallup showed that Americans’ trust in mass media was hitting an all-time low. In September 2016, only 32% of people said they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media, which is a decline of -8% from the previous year.

A report from Edelman from January 2017 is even more damning. Trust of the media declined -5% from 2016, which is faster than trust is declining in government (-1%), business (-1%), and NGOs (-2%).

As we mentioned earlier, the rise of fake news is complex and very difficult to untangle. However, the fact is that established news outlets aren’t doing themselves any favors. If people feel like they can’t trust the Washington Post or other such sources, then it should be no surprise that they are turning to the power of “word of mouth” from their peers more often – no matter how fallible this might be.

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This is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense

How much does each country in the military alliance contribute to NATO defense spending? We break it down with this map.

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Visualizing the Defense Spending of Each NATO country

This Is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exists for the sole purpose of facilitating a political and military alliance between almost 30 countries. All are obligated to one another in times of war, but some countries have much stronger militaries and defense systems than others.

Using data from NATO, this map reveals what each NATO member country spends on its own national defense.

Note: Numbers are 2021 projections.

Biggest NATO Defense Spenders

The U.S. spends more on defense than any other NATO country.

According to the 2021 estimates, U.S. defense spending will be close to $811 billion this year. On the other hand, the defense spending of all other NATO countries combined is projected to be $363 billion, meaning the U.S. will outspend all other countries by a whopping $448 billion.

RankCountryMillions (USD) 2021pChange (2014-2021)
#1🇺🇸 United States$811,14024.0%
#2🇬🇧 United Kingdom$72,76510.8%
#3🇩🇪 Germany$64,78540.3%
#4🇫🇷 France$58,72912.9%
#5🇮🇹 Italy$29,76321.5%
#6🇨🇦 Canada$26,52346.0%
#7🇪🇸 Spain$14,87517.7%
#8🇳🇱 Netherlands$14,37838.9%
#9🇵🇱 Poland$13,36932.3%
#10🇹🇷 Turkey$13,057-3.8%
#11🇳🇴 Norway$8,2927.4%
#12🇬🇷 Greece$8,01453.1%
#13🇧🇪 Belgium$6,50325.1%
#14🇷🇴 Romania$5,785114.9%
#15🇩🇰 Denmark$5,52236.1%
#16🇨🇿 Czech Republic$4,013103.2%
#17🇵🇹 Portugal$3,97532.2%
#18🇭🇺 Hungary$2,907140.3%
#19🇸🇰 Slovakia$2,043104.6%
#20🇭🇷 Croatia$1,84673.6%
#21🇱🇹 Lithuania$1,278198.8%
#22🇧🇬 Bulgaria$1,25367.7%
#23🇱🇻 Latvia$851189.9%
#24🇪🇪 Estonia$78753.2%
#25🇸🇮 Slovenia$76056.0%
#26🇱🇺 Luxembourg$47487.4%
#27🇦🇱 Albania$23933.8%
#28🇲🇰 North Macedonia$21976.6%
#29🇲🇪 Montenegro$9740.0%

NATO is based on building up forces and equipment for the goal of joint security and defense. And, despite the pandemic, many members did increase their spending in 2020.

However, not all countries contribute equally. The agreed-upon target for European NATO members, for example, is to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024, but many countries are not on track to meet this goal.

Who Pays for NATO Itself?

One of the key pillars of NATO is collective defense: a commitment to the idea that an act of violence against one or more of its member states is an act of aggression towards all.

Collective defense, cooperative security, and crisis management are at the heart of NATO’s purpose and operations.

Apart from defense spending, running a transcontinental political alliance costs around $3 billion annually. So which countries foot the bill for these expenses?

CountryCost Share Arrangements
(2021-2024)
🇺🇸 United States16.36%
🇩🇪 Germany16.36%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom11.29%
🇫🇷 France10.50%
🇮🇹 Italy8.79%
🇨🇦 Canada6.88%
🇪🇸 Spain6.00%
🇹🇷 Turkey4.73%
🇳🇱 Netherlands3.45%
🇵🇱 Poland2.99%
🇧🇪 Belgium2.11%
🇳🇴 Norway1.78%
🇩🇰 Denmark1.31%
🇷🇴 Romania1.23%
🇬🇷 Greece1.06%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic1.06%
🇵🇹 Portugal1.05%
🇭🇺 Hungary0.76%
🇸🇰 Slovakia0.52%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria0.37%
🇭🇷 Croatia0.30%
🇱🇹 Lithuania0.26%
🇸🇮 Slovenia0.23%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg0.17%
🇱🇻 Latvia0.16%
🇪🇪 Estonia0.12%
🇦🇱 Albania0.09%
🇮🇸 Iceland0.06%
🇲🇪 Montenegro0.03%
Total 100.00%

Members have pre-arranged mechanisms to divide NATO alliance expenses evenly.

Getting into specifics, the members are paying for:

  • Civilian staff wages and overhead costs of running NATO headquarters.
  • Running strategic commands, joint operations, early warning and radar systems, training, etc.
  • Defense communications systems, harbors, airfields, and fuel supplies.

The Future of NATO

While outright nation-on-nation conflict is becoming more rare, threats to the collective security of NATO allies have not disappeared.

While countries may have differing opinions over the exact amount each should contribute, rising expenditures are a sign that NATO is still a priority for the near future.

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Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan

This map explainer looks at Afghanistan from a structural point of view, delving into geography and population patterns.

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afghanistan map explainer

Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan

The country of Afghanistan has a long and complicated history of domination by foreign powers and conflict between factions within the country.

While Afghanistan is well covered in headlines and news stories, the lion’s share of this coverage is directly related to conflict. As a result, Afghanistan is viewed by many in Western countries as a war-torn desert, with conflict, ideology, and geopolitical power obscuring more practical information about the country and its people.

In the Afghanistan map graphic above, we step back and examine Afghanistan from a structural point of view. How does its unique landscape influence population patterns? How does this geography influence the economy and relationships with neighboring nations? Let’s dive in.

Mountain High, Valley Low

Afghanistan’s rugged landscape is defined by towering snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys, and expansive deserts.

First, the country has a wide variety of climate extremes. There is more than 100ºC (180ºF) separating the record high and low temperatures.

The extremes don’t stop at temperature though. Afghanistan has the sixth-highest elevation span in the world, with 7,234m (23,734 ft) between its highest and lowest point. Afghanistan is one of 44 landlocked nations in the world, which helps explain why its lowest point is so much higher than sea level.

For those living in North America, the country’s terrain has been compared to Colorado, with Kabul sharing similarities with Denver.

Where Do People Live in Afghanistan?

Settlement patterns in Afghanistan are similar to other countries in the region; people cluster where there is access to fresh water.

As the cartogram below demonstrates, a large portion of the country’s population is located around Kabul, and the region adjacent to the Kabul River.

afghanistan gridded population cartogram

Source

The southwestern province of Nimruz is the most sparsely populated area in the country. The Wakhan Corridor—which connects Afghanistan to China—is also very sparsely populated, with about 14,000 total residents.

Key Facts About Afghanistan’s Demographics

Afghanistan has a very youthful population. The country’s median age of 19 years is one of the youngest in the world, and is low compared to its neighbors Pakistan (24) and Iran (30).

afghanistan demographic population pyramid

Islam is the official state religion of Afghanistan. 99.7% of the Afghan population are Muslim, one of the highest proportions of the 49 Muslim-majority countries.

So far in 2021, the OCHA estimates that 550,000 people in Afghanistan are “internally displaced” due to conflict, and this number may rise still as new data tracks the final days of the Taliban’s takeover of the country. The majority of those displaced persons are children.

Paving the Way

The Ring Road connecting Afghanistan’s major cities began in the 1960s but was soon cut short by war. After the U.S. took control in 2001, new road construction began in earnest.

Between 2002 and 2016, USAID and the Department of Defense (DoD) spent approximately $2.8 billion building and maintaining Afghanistan’s road infrastructure. This number doesn’t include additional investment from other sources that poured in to improve the country’s road network.

The result is a more comprehensive road network, but one that is difficult to maintain. A 2016 report found collapsed bridges and sections of road around the country that were washed out.

Resources and Relationships

Afghanistan is a critical source of fresh water for the arid region. Several major regional rivers flow from the country’s mountainous eastern provinces into neighboring countries, so any new irrigation schemes and dam infrastructure will come with a geopolitical price tag as well.

Already in the recent past, tensions have increased with Iran and Pakistan over the flow of water crossing the border.

Outside countries are also very interested in Afghanistan’s rich mineral resources. Decades of near-continuous conflict have made mining a tough proposition in the country, but with growing demand for resources such as lithium and rare earths, that may soon change.

afghanistan mineral production potential

Source

Afghanistan is estimated to have over $1 trillion of untapped mineral reserves, and outside interests are taking notice.

China said it was ready for “friendly and cooperative relations” with the new Taliban regime, and it’s possible that investment from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may step in to fill the vacuum left by departing Western powers.

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