Why do people believe fake news

Millions of new videos, articles or posts appear on the web and in chat forums every day, including a lot of misinformation. Why do people fall for this?

Not everyone learns about fake news online right away.dpa

It’s an assertion that has been haunting social networks and private messaging services since the last federal election and is still being shared: Annalena Barbock, who was a candidate for chancellor at the time and now serves as foreign minister, wants to ban Germans from pets. For example, you might consider a carbon dioxide tax on dogs and cats to reduce emissions.

This is nonsense – or rather: false news, i.e. a deliberate misleading claim that is deliberately spread in order to discredit the green politician. In a recent report from the Think Tanks Club in Rome, the authors describe the “collective inability to distinguish between fact and fiction” as “the most important challenge of our time”.

In democratic societies, disinformation and misinformation have been curbed, at least to a certain extent, by the media, according to the Land for All Report. But social media has shattered that model. They have created an entire industry of disinformation and disinformation, fueling polarization in societies, a loss of trust and an inability to work together or even agree on basic facts in the face of collective challenges.”

Home advantage for misinformation

But what makes fake news so successful? “The reason people believe misinformation is because they want to believe it,” says political and data scientist Joseph Holenberger. “Because it’s offering them someone to blame or because they think their political position is the right one.” This goes to the extent that some people often share misinformation even if it has already been refuted.

Such misinformation is immediately picked up and discussed by a number of users on the Internet. In the digital age, where everyone’s voice can be heard, hard facts are very hard to come by. The reasons for this include anger and anger, Holenberger says. “Messages that anger people are more likely to be sent or posted on social media.”

People want to do something about the alleged violations and are therefore more likely to share such messages. On the other hand, verified facts or explanations about misinformation – the so-called fact-checking – reach far fewer people because they rarely irritate or energize anyone. Some psychological and algorithmic influences, Holenberger says, offer a kind of home advantage for disinformation.

As tech blogger Ben Thompson described this phenomenon a few years ago: “Force has shifted from the supply side to the demand side.” In other words, whether a message reaches many people no longer depends on who is spreading it, but on how many people want to hear and pass on.

Motivational background often destabilizing

A thesis confirmed by media culture scholar Martin Doll: “The technical mechanisms of social media platforms are characterized by a preference for the posts that elicit the most reactions.” wrong information.

According to experts, political or economic intentions are usually behind this. Current example: False news about the war in Ukraine. “Often the main driver here is destabilization—that is, spreading chaos, distrust and the like,” Holenberger says. Indeed, some of the theses spread contradict each other. “For example, in the early days of the war, we repeatedly saw misinformation that Russia did not invade Ukraine at all. At the same time, it was also said that Russia had a good reason to invade.

The purpose of contradictory fake news is to flood users with so much false information that the truth and facts almost disappear next to it. “After all, you have a lot of alternative hypotheses that you start to believe,” Holenberger says. In addition, the reliability of the existing media should be undermined.

According to a survey conducted by Vodafone in the summer of 2021, it is people 50+ who often view and share misinformation. If you ask them how often they encounter fake news, they often won’t be able to answer. Among other things, because they do not see what they read and see it as a lie, but as information.

Therefore, according to experts, it is important above all that the private environment – friends, acquaintances or work colleagues – conflict in such cases. “People affected by misinformation often believe that the silent majority agrees with them or that everyone will believe it,” Holenberger explains. This worldview must be shaken. “Compared to large media outreach campaigns, the personal environment has the most reach.” In this context, the work of fact-checkers is also useful. “These are exactly the platforms that flag false information in their environment.”

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