The internet has made it easy for people to spread false news. They frame stories in a way that we find it hard to doubt their credibility. These stories win us.
Some of us believe these stories because of shared sentiments. The rest of us ‘prefer‘ to believe them because the people around us do so. These are people we think are smart, so we blindly trust their views. We endorse their views to look good on the internet. It’s called the bandwagon effect, a type of cognitive bias.
“The bandwagon effect is a psychological phenomenon in which people do something primarily because other people are doing it, regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override. This tendency of people to align their beliefs and behaviours with those of a group is also called a herd mentality.”
A good example is politics. There is a spectrum of political ideologies. And each of us is given a label based on our preferences, ideologies and beliefs. We take these labels seriously and create an identity out of them. But taking these labels seriously can have dangerous effects.
- We lose the ability to question things.
- We take offence when people challenge our beliefs.
- Sometimes we become trusted buyers of fabricated stories.
- We tend to propagate misconstrued information by sharing them on social media.
- We expand the population of ignorant people.
- We achieve illusionary superiority, only to become victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
“Dunning-Kruger effect, in psychology, a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria or to the performance of their peers or of people in general.”
Let me share a recent example: Some news articles claimed that Microsoft acquired Sony for 130 billion dollars. Many people shared links related to this news on social media only to propagate the fake news further. It would have been easier to check out Microsoft’s press release section on their website or their social media handles to confirm the news. But most people didn’t do that.
What can we do about this?
We must become aware of our personal biases. Combining this awareness with curiosity can help us question the right things.
For example, if your answer to “How do I know what I read is true?” is
- because my favourite journalist wrote it
- because it aligns with my beliefs
- because the person I look up to believes in it
- because it sounds like a possibility
Then, resist your urge to believe it.
Do some research to verify the authenticity of the news. A quick hack is to google the most important detail from a tweet, article, video, etc., to see if many other news sources talk about the same thing. If it’s related to a country or an organization, see if you can confirm the news on their website or social media handles.
If you’re still incredulous, that’s fine. Take your own sweet time to do your research instead of forcing yourself to agree with something. Disbelief is better than blind belief so long as it’s combined with a curiosity to know more.
Keep an open mind to consume new information. It can help you become a well-informed person.