Many people were outraged when Donald Trump won the Presidential election, but let’s ask ourselves: would we have wanted Hillary Clinton in the White House, knowing she has been conclusively linked to an obscene pedophile ring being run out of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C.?
Named after Comet, the sketchiest of Santa’s reindeer
In all seriousness, please don’t click on the above links, they’re awful
But both Clinton and Obama would be better than Trump, the guy who, in the first month of his presidency: tried to ban Muslim immigrants, picked someone who sued the Environmental Protection Agency 13 times as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, fought with the Australian PM, openly discussed the possibility of a nuclear holocaust with Russia…
…Actually, I was setting that up for a clever point about the perils of fake news, but that last paragraph kind of ruined it.
Once again, Trump tops a joke with reality
To be fair, Trump has faced a bunch of fake news himself. From hanging out at a Swiss Resort with Vlad Putin to the unsubstantiated golden showers story, Trump has battled a hearty crowd of “sources” who aren’t above just making up fake facts.
Luckily, Trump is prepared to win that battle
Anyways, the point I was going to make was that fake news is rampant on the internet, and becoming even rampanter. It’s pervasive on the world’s most-visited sites, from Facebook to Google, and even though credit should be given to those sites for identifying their fake news problems, at least one investigation found that the majority of people who come across fake news stories buy into them.
I haven’t been that surprised by an investigation since Bat Boy was found
And while some fake news stories are well-crafted and harder to detect, the vast majority – the Pizzagate thing, the birther movement, the flat-earth idea, the anti-vaxxer movement, etc. – are completely and totally devoid of evidence, or even any logical sense. And they can be dangerous when taken too seriously. That leads one to wonder – why do people believe obviously fake news to begin with?
Especially when are there are so many real problems in the world
One reason is that there’s so much news out there, it becomes harder for people to discern. “Information overload” is the term used for the confusion generated by overexposure to news and data, and it leads to problems telling what’s true and what’s not. Not surprisingly, the internet’s vast flows of information has exacerbated this problem, made worse still by the digital divide, as people with less access to communication technology (i.e., lower income, less educated, older) have a harder time distinguishing truth from lies on the web. Which might be why you get so many Facebook chain-mail posts telling you to repost or else all of your photos become public.
I shouldn’t talk, though. I fell for that Bonsai Kitten thing. Last week
Perhaps the bigger problem is that people want to believe fake news. Like your drunk uncle at Thanksgiving, sometimes people have a viewpoint they’re not willing to change, regardless of evidence to the contrary, you pinko commie. When people are presented with facts that don’t jive with their views, it causes an unpleasant mental disharmony, or cognitive dissonance, and sometimes it’s easier to believe in something false than accept the alternate reality.
Still doesn’t mean residential schools had their merits, Uncle Bill
In fact, brain imaging studies show that challenging someone’s strongly-held viewpoints with contrasting evidence triggers that person’s neural centers associated with personal identity and threat responses. That’s why people become so emotional in political arguments – they feel like they’re being personally attacked.
Or they might actually be getting attacked
With so much at unpleasant brain activity at stake, it becomes easy to believe in news stories you know are probably false. Admit it, if you hate Trump, you really wanted to believe in the golden showers thing, didn’t you? If you’re not a Hillary fan, you can totally believe the email scandal is a crime worthy of imprisonment.
If you didn’t like Bush, you probably already knew that Cheney is a robot
You have a belief, fake news stories support that belief, and on a neural level, they boost your self-identity and protect you from threat, so you’re more lenient about their likely veracity. Try to remember that the next time someone posts a clearly absurd political story on Facebook – on some level they’re trying to protect themselves from the threat of a harsh reality that doesn’t sync with their own beliefs.
But do watch out for those fake news stories. You don’t want to fall for them.
Especially if it’s from an American news company that’s failing. Then you know it’s fake
Dan and Bat Boy are off to rescue Bigfoot’s love slave. Drop a line at info [at] scienceeverywhere.ca to see a topic covered here.