Why Are We Falling for Fake News?

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By Bethany Gordon

According to MarketingProfs, more than 2 million online articles are published every day on the web - including blogs just like this one!

Today the internet is becoming more mobile, faster and more efficient than ever before, giving people the opportunity to share news and access the internet for information easier. This is greatening the chance of false articles being published and is causing people to believe misleading information.

--But why do we fall for it?!

Our brains are becoming lazy

With international news being so widely accessible, we are more likely to just “Google” our answers, rather than taking the time to read a book or an article and actually get the facts. Do you ever find yourself trying to read an article online, but then you find yourself lost amongst it realizing you don’t really recall what the article was about? That is because our minds are multitasking reading pop-up e-mails, glancing at our phones for notifications, checking out an online advertisement for a product that you’ve been dying to purchase. Our brains are developing a muscle memory of “skimming the article”, making it easier to read quicker and take in less information (or perhaps misleading information).

With the internet being mobile almost everywhere in the world, our brain is taking on the temptation to outsource all of our thinking to the web. Whether you’re curious to see what the Northern Lights look like in Alaska or if you want to know more about how Bumble Bees collect pollen in the Summer – you’re less likely to travel to Alaska or drive to the nearest library and check out a book on Insects, because it is costing you money and your time. Why read a book when you can just Google a short article for free at home? Yet, are you certain that what you are reading is accurate?

Conspiracy Theories as Stories

Although conspiracy beliefs can occasionally be based on a rational analysis of the evidence, most of the time they are not. As humans, one of our greatest strengths is our ability to discover meaningful patterns in the world around us to make more sense of things. But sometimes, we may find that the patterns and connections are not there and the event is beyond our control.

However, there is something about conspiracy theories that causes a certain attractiveness to our brain. The attractiveness of conspiracy theories may arise from a number of cognitive biases that characterize the way we process information. “Confirmation bias” is the most pervasive cognitive bias and a powerful driver of belief in conspiracies. We all have a natural inclination to give more weight to evidence that supports what we already believe and ignore evidence that contradicts our beliefs.1

Another relevant cognitive bias is “projection”. People who endorse conspiracy theories may be more likely to engage in conspiratorial behaviors themselves, such as spreading rumors or tending to be suspicious of others' motives.

If you would engage in such behavior, it may seem natural that other people would as well, making conspiracies appear to be more likely and widespread.

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The nature of the Internet nowadays has resulted in many parties throwing their hat into the internet stream of articles, sometimes purposefully circulating incorrect information. This may be for fun, or for more sinister reasons. But the truth really is out there – it just takes some effort to find it.

Us as humans must try to use the extra effort to recognize bad apples when we see them – and teach our children to do the same!

1. http://www.alphr.com/science/1002312/does-the-internet-make-our-brains-lazy