Unless you have been living under a rock, you have definitely been bombarded with messages suggesting that the ‘Indian National anthem has been declared the best national anthem by the United Nations’ or that the ‘2000 rupee currency notes have microchips in them’. We almost (or actually) believed these, didn’t we? With WhatsApp University being ever so prominent and the first source of information for many, fake news has become a very usual phenomenon. To dig deeper and analyse the underlying psychology behind why humans are so receptive to fake news, Bingedaily spoke to a psychologist.
Why is the human mind wired to accept fake news?
In a response to the headline ‘Why do people fall for fake news?’, the deck of a New York Times article wondered if people were ‘blinded by political passions or were just intellectually lazy’.
Towards which side do the scales tip in favour of?
Misinformation in the 21st century doesn’t simply lead to a case of bad general knowledge but can blow over and incite communal violence, riots and even cause a full-blown out storm on social media platforms. Psychology is trying its best to understand why people are so receptive to accepting just about anything without doing a fact-check first. Japneet Anand, a counselling psychologist, a clinical hypnotherapist and an NLP Master Trainer helps us decrypt the mystery.
“There is a tendency of the mind to think that fake news is emanating from a higher truth which in reality is the majority of the times more vigorous and unhealthy than we even understand. Also, fake news makes us look into only one side of any story rather than looking at the objective reality which could give one a holistic view before believing in the situation,” she says.
Does fake news follow a pattern in order to have appeal?
What sets the reasoning part of the human mind apart from the part that will blindly believe whatever is thrown at it, is objectivity. “This is exactly what fake news targets,” says Japneet.
“Fake stories are crafted in such a way as to get one to look at things in a polarised manner.”
Research tells us that as humans we have a tendency to search for, recall, and interpret information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. A feel-good factor emerges and makes us feel fuzzy at knowing that higher complex societal happenings conform to our ways of thinking. Thus we lose objectivity and look at these with a bias. We are comfortable with relapsing into a state of mental laziness while being exposed to the news.
How can people end the vicious cycle and train their minds to be more critical?
Japneet sees it as a personal effort to combat biases and view things critically. “It is possible,” she says.
Reflect upon the news you consume
“Be reflective in your approach to information,” she emphasises. Social media algorithms enable people to join groups of like-minded people, enable a distortion of reality and with the emergence of the cancel culture, suppressing contrarian groups has become increasingly simple. How can one thus distinguish between what is fake and what is real? Is a greater number proof of something being true?
That can no longer be said. In a study conducted it was determined that fake news can in actual cause people to develop certain beliefs even if they are not in line with a person’s way of thinking.
Get a holistic view of the subject
“A bird’s eye view is what you need while assessing news,” advises this psychologist. As was suggested at the beginning of the article, a polarised way of looking at the news can be toxic. Instead, looking at every side of the story, even those that do not fall in line with one’s way of thinking can greatly influence one’s attitude towards fake news.
“Be open in accepting that one data which looks like the reality could have multiple perspectives rather than something just being either right or wrong. We need to embrace the grey and objective viewpoint.”
“By being non-judgemental, empathetic and having an acceptance of multiple viewpoints, it is easier to have a critical approach towards fake news. Objectivity is a great tool to evaluate any situation at its depth. Our thinking needs to be diversified in order for it to help us make productive decisions for our well-being.”
How can critical thinking put an end to the nonsense?
“Critical thinking is an effective technique to churn any information based on its objective reality. Hence it surely is a reliable solution,” says Japneet.
Applying logic and reasoning to your thinking while consuming a piece of news will enable you to be your own fact-checker. Ask yourself why the author has written the piece and what does he/she wish to make you feel on reading it.
If you can answer this question objectively, then the news piece is authentic. However, if you notice that the writing is in a way steering you in a particular direction, stop!
The 5 most popular (or unpopular) fake news that we all fell for
After demonetisation compelled the Nation to turn their old 500 rupee and 1000 rupee currency notes in, and new 2000 rupee notes were issued, a viral Whatsapp post in 2019 read that post-December 2019, the Rs 2000 note would be banned and the Rs 1000 notes would be re-issued.
It wasn’t true, but was circulated enough to cause quite the stir!
WhatsApp to be banned during the night?
WhatsApp University is infamous for its fake news, but it fell prey to some of its own. A viral post suggested that as a new policy implemented by the Prime Minister, the social media messaging app would be banned during the night.
We almost fell for that one.
Did President Kovind actually gain 3 million Twitter followers in an hour?
Twitter has a policy of retaining followers of the official accounts of the President, Vice President etc. Thus when a new figure is elected to power, the account will gain the followers of the previous person in the post.
The media obviously forget to fact check and went into a tizzy claiming that President Kovind had gained a whopping 3 million followers on Twitter in an hour.
COVID-19: A bio-weapon?
News did the rounds of the COVID-19 virus being harvested in a lab as a bio-weapon and its leaking having caused a global pandemic. While the virus has been traced back to its roots in China, no theory whatsoever confirmed that it was in actuality a bio-weapon production gone wrong.
The video of the ‘Galwan Clash’
Several prominent news channels aired a video of the 1962 War Memorial as ‘The Proof of The Galwan’. The video claimed that these were the graves of the soldiers who were martyred in the bloody Galwan Valley clash.
Stop, reflect, and only once you have ascertained a news piece as true, then go ahead and share it.