It’s very easy to attribute the spread of fake news or misinformation as the by-product of the widespread use of social media. But that’s not true. Fake news and its spread have been prominent since before the era of Facebook and Twitter. Consider the Gulf War, when people wholeheartedly believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. This fake news spread quickly and played a key role in convincing the masses that the war was justified. This serves as one example of why deconstruction of the notion behind fake news becomes important. The main question arises — what is the psychology behind fake news? Why does it spread so quickly and why do people believe it so easily?
Fake news is misinformation presented in a way that makes the audience think it is valid. Unlike authentic news, fake news is presented with a lack of evidence. It’s presented in such a way that it looks factual and real. This spread of fake news can also be attributed to hyperpartisan or yellow journalism. Yellow journalism promotes sensationalism. It believes in big scary headlines to attract the audience and increase the circulation of news.
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If you want to understand the impact of fake news, consider the Nazi Propaganda — media, radio and newspapers played a key role in the rise of antisemitism in Germany. Today, the internet is a medium through which false information spreads at a fast pace. This especially happens at the expense of fake news. Let us explore the psychology behind fake news, in what way it is presented and why people believe it so easily.
1. Emotions and their appeal
Fake news often targets the emotions of the audience. It displays news to instigate strong emotions in the audience. One of the key reasons for the acceptance of fake news is this. Because strong emotions often suppress rational thinking. One might not question the validity of a statement, when extremely overwhelmed with emotions. It is known that yellow journalism, or sensationalist news triggers the activation of the amygdala, a key component of the brain responsible for the regulation of emotion.
2. The Need for Simplicity
Our brain likes to seek information that maintains our worldview. People easily believe fake news because of confirmation bias. This bias refers to actively seeking information that supports your initial belief. So if you believe something to be true, your brain will automatically seek only that information that reinforces these conceptions. This might also lead to the creation of echo chambers — creating an environmental space where individuals encounter only the information that they previously believed in. Misinformation thrives in echo chambers
3. Need to have Social Validation
People also sometimes align their views with the social group they want to be recognised as. When individuals see people sharing certain information and see an audience of large numbers endorsing it, they come to endorse that information, even if it’s fake. This is because of the need for social validation.
4. Information Overload
Ideally, there is only so much information our brains can handle. In the era of social media, people are constantly surrounded by news. This can lead to an information overload and hinder one’s ability to assess information and needs presented to them critically and rationally. They might also prefer the use of heuristics and shortcuts to assess information, this might not allow them to critically evaluate the information, and lead to being more susceptible to falling for fake news and misinformation.
How to not fall for fake news?
In this era of false news and social media, it is our responsibility to learn to discern and not fall for fake news. Some of the few tips that you can heed are
- Whenever you come across a news, it becomes important for you to verify the sources. Make sure you cross-check the information for various sources as well as check the credentials of the author who is writing the news.
- Fact-check your sources. Visit credible websites to check on details and statistics being shared on the news.
- Sometimes old news gains attraction and it gets shared excessively. It is information for you to understand the context and make sure you aren’t believing in outdated news.
- Understand your own bias. Make sure that you critically evaluate the information presented to you and do not fall for any confirmation bias.
- Beware of clickbait headlines and sensationalism. Sometimes information is exaggerated just to attract a larger audience. Therefore it becomes important for you to ask questions and be vary of any new information presented at first.
As users of the internet, there is no doubt that we will always be coming across fake news at one time or another. Therefore, it is our responsibility to understand the severity of the issue and how it can be detrimental if we do not.
Want to know more about the underworld of media? Check out these book recommendations made just for you
- Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media
- Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
- Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator
- Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion, and Propaganda in the Global Media