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Fool me once... why we regularly fall for fake news

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Why in the world do people fall for fake news? I have labeled this alternatively as willful ignorance, gullibility, the failure of the public school system, the dearth of critical thinking and civics instruction, too much drug use, and/or too little vitamin B and fish oil, while still seeking other options. Last week I overheard a conversation in the laundromat that propelled me to dig deeper. Two men were conversing across the rows of washing machines: “Yeah, that’s how the Clintons got rich. When people try to get an application for citizenship, they see something that guarantees they can stay for seven years if they pay a bunch of money, and that goes right to the Clintons.” My internal Wise Woman was urging me not to engage with them, and although I didn’t trust that I could stay cool-headed, my self-righteous, politically correct guardian of accuracy was straining at the leash. However, the change machine was broken, so I had to leave to get quarters. Wise Woman sighed with relief, “Close call. Good move.” However, when I returned one fellow was saying, “Yeah, those baby farms Planned Parenthood has charge $50,000 for every baby.” “Yeah, we’ve got to cut them off from any funding.” Wise Woman was groaning. Somewhere in that mass of amazing untruths, one of the men said something about fact -checking. I put my quarters in the washing machine, told Wise Woman to stuff it, and said as I walked by the closest man on my way out, “You really need to do a whole lot more fact-checking.” He asked, ‘About what?” I replied, “About absolutely everything you said.”

For the sake of the integrity of this column, I did, in fact, fact-check their claims on Snopes.com, Factcheck.org and Pulitzer prize-winning Politifact.com.

I couldn’t find a reference to baby farms of any kind, but I did find an even more imaginative and disgusting accusation that Pepsi and other companies were using fetal tissue from aborted babies in their products. Will people believe anything? (It was false in case there lingers any question.)

Nor could I find any reference to the Clintons getting rich selling visas or citizenship or old campaign buttons, but I have to confess I did not wade through the ten pages of creative and unrelated stories that popped up.

Art Markman, PhD, a cognitive scientist at the University of Texas, explains that evolutionary biology is responsible in part for our tendency to believe what we hear. He claims that being skeptical takes more effort and that our brains would rather just believe. As social creatures, we’ve survived by being naturally credulous, fitting in, and mimicking the rest of the clan. He says that one damaging result of all the misinformation is the continued influence effect. Research has shown that people tend to continue to believe the first pieces of information they hear even when it is later contradicted. This is true whether they first hear something is true and later reported as false, or if they first hear it is false and later reported to be true.

For example, unproven claims about the dangers of various vaccines have been around for years, leading many people to not vaccinate their children. In February of this year, Darla Shine, the wife of Bill Shine, President Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff for communications, tweeted to “bring back” childhood diseases because “they keep you healthy and fight cancer” along with other misleading information. A Facebook meme later blamed the Democrats for letting in “unclean” immigrants from Mexico who were inflected with measles. The irony in that accusation is that the measles virus was eliminated by 2000 in the U.S., and by 2016 in all of North and South America, but there has been an upsurge in measles outbreaks in 2019, caused by unvaccinated international travelers visiting other areas that have not eliminated measles.

Another aspect of the continued influence effect is that the more emotionally vested we are in believing a fake fact, the harder it is to change our stubborn minds. Research at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California showed that when people were given evidence that a belief they held was false, functional brain imaging showed a lot of activity in the part of the brain connected with identity. Scientists also saw activity in the amygdala, an area that helps perceive threat and anxiety. This was interpreted as people defending an attack on their beliefs, just as the body braces itself for a physical attack. The lead researcher, Jonas Kaplan, Ph.D., said that people’s erroneous positions become stronger with a “newly fortified defense.” He explained, “the work suggests that neural systems for emotion and feeling are central to this process, and that the brain has repurposed some of its oldest systems for protecting us against threats to protect us against information that might threaten our sense of who we are.”

An important factor in all of this is that we are deluged with more information than we can process, and we rely on social information to help, or what we think other people are thinking. It’s a rational and reasonable response to uncertainty. We’ve always done this, checking out what others are doing and imitating them. Isn’t that where fads and trends come from? When I lived in Iowa, I learned that older farmers would sometimes decide what to plant based on what they saw neighboring farmers doing rather than seeking out their own answers. The result could be poor crops that weren’t suited to their soil conditions, but they believed that others knew better, and they followed their lead. Tom Chatfield, author and tech philosopher, states, “the understanding of this tendency underlies the online age: what people are thought to be thinking makes the digital world go round.”

Fake news includes deliberately invented stories to make money or manipulate people, distorted partially true stories to propagandize and mislead, or President Trump’s specialty of calling anything fake news that is factually accurate but that he doesn’t agree with. The fallout from the proliferation of misinformation is serious if people become so leery and exhausted from the mind games, that they become less likely to seek out or accept information.

Be on the alert for questionable news. We can be subtly influenced when we’re unaware, and apparently most of us overestimate our ability to recognize false news. Keep a critical mindset about the purpose of the story, avoiding an emotional response. Check out the source. URLs that end in extensions like “infonet” and “offer” are suspect. Has the story been picked up by other well-known news outlets? Examine the evidence. Look for fake images: you can use tools like Google Reverse Image Search to see if an image has been altered or used in the wrong context. Use your common sense! And speak up if you hear questionable stories being passed off as true.

Comments

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Scott Atwater

Would it not be prudent to be skeptical of Snopes.com, Factcheck.org and the Pulitzer prize-winning Politifact.com. also? Caveat emptor.

Thursday, September 26
jtormoen

See how easy it was to prove your argument Ms. Firth.

Hook, line, and sunk him

Thursday, September 26
Steve Jacobson

The news media has always been about fake news and using it to expand their audiences. All Trump has done is expose it so that people like Betty know now not to believe everything they see on TV.

Friday, September 27
jtormoen

Dang ... she is two for two.

Friday, September 27
Steve Jacobson

Dang.... making Trump look smarter every day. Bazinga!

Friday, September 27
jtormoen

Perhaps somebody ... as well as Sheldon ... check the original meaning of "bazinga". Unless you think dictionaries of African languages are fake news!!!

Friday, September 27
Scott Atwater

Last week's fake news award winner: Adam Schiff.

Wat to go, pencil neck.

Sunday, September 29
Scott Atwater

Latest Gallup polling reveals that only 13% of the people have a "great deal of trust" in mass media.

69% of Democrats, 15% of Republicans, 36% of independents trust media.

https://news.gallup.com/poll/267047/americans-trust-mass-media-edges-down.aspx

Saturday, October 5
jtormoen

That is interesting ... but isn't it fake news?

Saturday, October 5
Lee Peterson

Thanks, Betty, for your informative, excellent column

When Atwater pulled the trigger, the bullet came out of his end of the gun. Didn't James Bond give an adversary a pistol that fired backwards? Ha!

Monday, October 7
Scott Atwater

We all win when old Petersen is at home watching ancient James Bond movies rather than driving around at 37 mph with his left turn signal on.

Monday, October 7
jtormoen

Oh, good ... you are still around. How about the response to "What is it about fascism that is so appealing to you"

I mean, about 3-4 months and you keep dodging the question.

And you can always call it fake news, so ...

Monday, October 7
Scott Atwater

Most will recognize that you're "question" is little more than a sleazy accusation. You may want to consider sitting this one out until you can overcome your problem with personal bias.

Tuesday, October 8
jtormoen

And folks ... we still get the same type story ... blathering on while ignoring the question. Ah, well, when one fails the first time (and second and third and fourth and ...) one tries, tries again.

Oh, and can you provide data to support your claim of "most".

Tuesday, October 8
Scott Atwater

Timberjay's poster child ^^^^^^^^^^^for the Dunning–Kruger effect.

Saturday, October 12
jtormoen

Oh, good ... you are still around. I have a question for you (see multiple postings for specifics ... or continue to dodge and deflect)

Saturday, October 12
Scott Atwater

Well, old captain non sequitur is nothing if not persistent. LoL.

Sunday, October 13
jtormoen

I think I know someone who would make a marvelous press secretary for the current white house. Four or five months of persistent obfuscation.

Oh, and well done on the self-analysis

Sunday, October 13
Lee Peterson

"It" bravely goes forth behind the name of a defunct outboard motor, "Scott Atwater" and further defines itself with each nonsensical post. Most folks have had enough of this behavior, as is reflected in the current impeachment polls. Even the Fox News poll! Facts do matter to the majority of Americans Shep Smith has seen the light for a while now, maybe Atwater can take his place at Fox.

Sunday, October 13
Scott Atwater

How timely that old Peterson is a victim of fake news himself, specifically the Fox News Poll he referenced.

From the New York post:

"The poll said 51% of voters were in favor of Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, while 40% did not want him impeached."

"Princeton, New Jersey, pollster Braun Research, which conducted the survey, noted 48% of its respondents were Democrats."

https://nypost.com/2019/10/12/fox-news-pollster-braun-research-misrepresented-impeachment-poll-analysis/

Let's see if old Peterson is big enough to admit that he was burned by fake news.

Monday, October 14
jtormoen

Oh, good ... still around. Let me ask again ... since you seem to advocate openness and transparency of "opinion" ... "what is it about fascism that so appeals to you"

(to the reading public, this is about the twentieth asking of what is so simple a question ... but alas)

Monday, October 14
jtormoen

and another question ... what is this love affair with "old"?

Or just an attempt to obfuscate ... again ... more

Monday, October 14
bonfire

I think a high percentage of trump supporters who still support him today fully know he and his administration continually lie and lie outrageously, brazenly but simply don't care. A huge tell is that if reversed with a Dem president/administration behaving the exact same way, trumpers would be melting down and screaming "Lock them all up". Inexplicably, they love every degrading, juvenile, unchristian, unamerican, mentally unbalanced, ignorant, dangerous thing he and his cadre says and does while ignoring how detrimental this is to them, not just "libtards". They don't even seem to mind that trump and associates are blowing up our government and our status in the world to enrich themselves bigly which was Plan A and the only plan. They don't even seem to mind that trump sucks up to murdering dictators and is getting played by them.

Many are so angry, they just wanted to blow government up but like trump and company, had no plan B thoughts for what happens to all of us after. I suspect they thought all those groups of people they resent so much would be the only ones to be harmed. An author recently said that far right conservatives truly believe the entire world is corrupt and it's a war of all against all, eat or be eaten.

Tom Nichols, a conservative and professor at Naval War College wrote "The Death of Experience" explores how ignorance became a virtue which has also been explored in books like "The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby and "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter among others. Experience, expertise, reason, knowledge, scientific data are dismissed as inferior and only opinion matters. What a foolish and risky way to navigate life. If I needed surgery or a contractor to repair a house about to fall down, I wouldn't choose someone who openly tells me he's a "stable genius", "the only one who can fix it" in his/her "great and unmatched wisdom". I wouldn't hire anyone with an ego like that to mow my lawn let alone anything that requires expertise, certainly not a president.

Tuesday, October 15
Betty Firth

Hear, hear, Bonfire. Light 'em up with enlightenment.

Tuesday, October 15
Lee Peterson

The outboard motor's repeated fixation on "old" in a derogatory sense reveals that it is an insecure outboard motor. That helps answer why the outboard shows tendencies toward fascism and totalitarianism.

48% of the Fox poll respondents were Democrats. That leaves around 30% trumplicans and 22% Independents. That sounds accurate. 51% of respondents favored impeachment. As time goes on, more Independents will get on board with impeachment. Enlightenment.

Wednesday, October 16
Scott Atwater

First, as presented the Fox news poll was proven to be fake news, yet not one of you are intellectually honest enough to admit it.....in an article about fake news!

Second, after the Democrats weaponized the intelligence agencies, spied on the Trump campaign, organized nothing less than a coup d'é·tat that began before the inauguration and continues to this day, perpetrated the Russian hoax, the Ukrainian hoax, trashed a Supreme Court nominee without one shred of evidence, turned a blind eye to the likes of Antifa thugs.......you actually have the gall to refer to Trump supporters as fascists. The 2016 election results should have been a wake up call for the lot of you, yet you've learned absolutely nothing from it. Instead you've chosen to undermine a duly elected president and demonize 62 million voters. The constitution, due process, freedom of speech on social media and college campuses mean absolutely nothing to any of you leftist shills.

For the first time since Ronald Reagan, we have a president that doesn't roll over for you lying Marxist hypocrites....and you don't like it.

If you socialist remnants from yesteryear's sit-ins didn't have double standards, you'd have no standards at all.

Wednesday, October 16
bonfire

When in danger, when in doubt,

Run in circles, scream and shout.

Wednesday, October 16
bonfire

Don't fall for Trump/Turkey fake news!

After a Sunday phone call between Trump and Erdogan, WH stated US troops would not interfere in a Turkish military operation to remove US backed Kurdish forces along Syria border with Turkey. WH also stated Turkey would be responsible for all ISIS fighters captured and imprisoned. Trump tweeted, "If Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)."

Trump wrote letter to Erdogan Oct 6 writing "Let's make a good deal. History will look unfavorably upon you forever as a devil if good things don't happen. Don't be a tough guy. Don't be a fool".

Over 150,000 Kurds, roughly half children flee. Latest death toll over 200, many children, women pulled from vehicles and shot. US forces blowing up their bases before Russians move in, ISIS prisoners escape.

VP Pence announced a ceasefire, a deal where Kurds must get out and US lift sanctions on Turkey. Turkey said it's only a pause.

Trump says Turkey had to "clean out" the border. Trump told reporters in Oval Office "Syria probably will have a partner of Russia. Syria was getting some help from Russia and that's fine. The Kurds are a lot safer now. There's a lot of sand that they can play with."

Erdogan said in news conference trump's letter was "not in line with diplomatic and political courtesy. We will not forget this lack of respect. When the time comes, we will take the necessary steps."

UN Security Council calls closed door emergency meeting.

Putin invited Erdogan to meet with him in Moscow in a few days.

Fake news is saying trump has no leverage now, Putin will control Syria with Assad, US is only a bystander and Trump's deal is like being mugged is a deal.

Don't you believe any of this. It's only fake news.

Friday, October 18
Scott Atwater

Speaking of Turkey/Kurds/Syria - here's another example of fake news from ABC:

"ABC aired supposedly shocking footage Monday and Sunday purporting to be from the front line battle between the Syrian Kurds and the invading Turks. The only problem is, the footage appears to come from a nighttime machine gun demonstration at the Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Kentucky," the Washington Examiner's T. Becket Adams wrote Monday.

ABC once again caught red handed.

https://www.cnn.com/2019/10/15/media/abc-news-error-video/index.html

Saturday, October 19
jtormoen

Well, I am most thankful that nothing approaching "fake news" ever departs the White House ... or its inhabitants when on field trips.

And that reminds me while you are here ... "what is it about ..."

Oh, never mind. No answer will ever be forthcoming

Sunday, October 20