As technologies develop and social media platforms become more and more popular, people start to spend less time verifying the correctness of the information they get. No matter, it’s an article about the rapid spread of the coronavirus, denying the climate crisis, or rumors about political issues, people easily believe everything they spot on social media and once they see it, the spreading of misinformation is inevitable. This is why social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Google started to fight against fake news on their platforms, enforcing policies against unauthorized spam accounts.
What is Fake News?
Fighting against misinformation is one of the most common topics in today’s world. If you want to understand why it is important to take this kind of step, you should know what exactly fake news means. It’s easy to guess that the term “fake news” is something relating to trolling society. It is defined as news stories that are false and can’t be verified by any sources or facts. Often fake news is propaganda aiming to mislead the people which became easier as they are quickly shared online. However, fake news is much larger than just false stories and it consists of misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is inaccurate information that is accidentally created without a specific purpose. While disinformation is deliberately created false facts which are made to influence society and obscure the truth.
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Studies have found that the speed of spreading Fake News is much higher than the rate of verified information. Knowing how to identify fake news is important especially today where the internet is full of misleading information and lies. But understanding why we fall for it is just as important. There are several psychological reasons why people believe this kind of false thing. Being aware of the effect the fake news has on our mind will help you take precautions in the future and detect anything that may be harmful on the internet.
Why do we believe in fake news?
Psychologists say that our brain is not reliable when it comes to introducing new information through social media. According to the Australia National University(ANU), when headlines are repeated everywhere, presented with photos it’s hard to think about terrifying it and we eventually believe that all these websites can’t be wrong, people talk about it, believe it, so why should I doubt it’s trustworthiness? All these things happen unconsciously and actually what happens is that we simply believe most of the things we see on the internet.
One of the reasons why we believe misinformation or maybe even conspiracy theories, is because paying attention is hard. Processing the information is what our mind constantly does every second. We get information via our sensory organs, and our brain operates to integrate it all. On social media we scroll endlessly, loads of new information is received in our mind and it’s impossible to process everything. Our attention is a selective process and we choose the information which is more relatable to us. Fake news is usually a short piece of information that is easy to recognize and focus on. Once we spot something like this, it already minds, having affected our memory.
But attention is not the only cognitive skill which is vulnerable in the process of receiving misinformation. Generally, we tend to fail in thinking critically. When we are surrounded by so many details, it becomes hard to think critically as our mental resources are limited. This means that our brain chooses to conserve mental energy for something more valuable. So, instead of evaluating critically, we try to make less effort and believe that if something is posted on the news site, it can be reliable. After that, things seem more convenient and we don’t worry about spending less time and energy.
Also, people are vulnerable to be influenced by others. Believe it or not, social pressure often has a huge impact on the way we act, think, and feel. People tend to be conformists without even realizing it and several studies are confirming this fact. The reason why we follow social norms is that we want to avoid social rejection and be part of a group. If people around us believe in social media posts, we may not want to risk our relationship and affiliation with them by contradicting the news. In general, this kind of pressure happens unconsciously.
Another reason for undoubtedly believing fake news is our emotions. People usually rely on emotional reasoning to process information in their minds. During the coronavirus outbreak, people became overwhelmed by emotions of fear which made them buy and hoard lots of things, even though the government announced that there was no scarcity of food and supplies. While you are panicked, it’s easier to disregard factual information and believe fake news. Emotions make us irrational and represent a huge barrier to critical thinking.
Confirmation bias is one of the most hindering factors when it comes to identifying misinformation. It refers to favoring information that confirms our existing beliefs. For example, if you read somewhere on the internet that Coronavirus has gone and it’s never gonna return, you will be prone to believe this news, as it’s pleasurable for us. And this works the opposite way as well - if we dislike the news, it’s more likely that we will try to find the facts that prove it’s wrong. It’s true that in some contexts confirmation bias can help us avoid fake news, but generally, it’s harmful to interpret new information correctly.
Studies show that fake news leads to false memories. False memories are a distorted recollection of events, which generally contain some elements of fact, but the rest is made up of our mind by interfering with information or other memory distortions. Memory mistakes are quite common and even if you’re sure that you remember something correctly and have a vivid image of the event or a thing, you may be wrong. The reason for developing false memories is supporting our beliefs. For example, if you are a Christopher Nolan fan and news reporter referenced that he’s going to make a new movie, we will remember reading this article as it aligns with our hopes and beliefs.
Another significant reason we may believe fake news is availability bias which is a tendency to think that things that come readily to our mind are more valid. Like we said, fake news spread quickly and we are exposed to several instances of fake news. As a result, these details are simply available, on the surface of our consciousness and they are easily recalled. This may be the reason why Trump and Biden are trying to appear on the television as often as possible. They try to make us remember themselves so that we unconsciously believe that they are strong candidates.
After all this psychological key points of the fake news, hopefully, you are aware of some of the reasons we people are vulnerable to believe unconfirmed information. Just remember to try to investigate the credibility of the source and invest more mental effort to think critically, consider if the argument is logical, and avoid reading only headlines. That way you will have more chances to get confirmed information.