Joseph Heller once said, “The truth is whatever people will believe is the truth. Don’t you know history?” Long gone are the days of being able to turn on any news channel that only gives facts. Today you must check your sources carefully and question everything. It is important we do this because fake news can be seen everywhere, and it is spread because our bias makes us more gullible.
Everyone all wants to believe that we exist innocently without biases or prejudiced beliefs. Although that want is far out of our reach, especially because there are characteristics about ourselves that we don’t see as having bias. Confirmation bias in its own can be more of a preference than a bias, in spite of them being one in the same. Confirmation bias is a type of bias in which someone favors evidence that confirms their own beliefs (Rasmussen). Rasmussen states that we naturally search for answers by asking questions that lead to answers that we want to hear. Confirmation bias affects our way of learning, understanding, and thinking about the world by leading us to think in a bias way. Confirmation bias plays a role in how gullible a person can be because they let their opinions keep them from questioning information (Feehery). We see confirmation bias leading to gullibility every day, especially in politics. On both sides of the political spectrum, you will see that people of all opinions read what confirms their own opinions. An article/documentary released by CNN showed that knowledge of other political party’s biases led to a wide spread of fake news around the time of the 2016 election (Davey-Attlee). Scam websites and Facebook pages were being used by to false information about both political parties purely for the profit they received for getting clicked on. One of the first people to start profiting from false information accounts is a man called Mikhail. He claimed to have made nearly $2,500 a day from all the times that people clicked to view a fake news article on Bernie Sanders or an article praising Donald Trump (Davey-Attlee). Mikhail’s profit is proof that many people let their confirmation bias lead them to read and believe an article that agreed or confirmed an opinion they were seeking to confirm. If we take a page from Destin Sandlin’s backward bicycle video, we will see that the idea of just “getting over” confirmation bias isn’t easy (“The Backwards Brian Bicycle”). People believe fake news because although they are capable of getting over their bias and when they do, they aren’t willing to put in what it takes to keep themselves from reverting back to their old beliefs.
Confirmation bias and gullibility go hand and hand when discussing why we fall for fake news. It’s because of the confirmation bias that we are gullible. No one wants to question information that we want to know. That is why it has become more common that we believe every bit of information that is handed to us. For example, when a rumor goes around we listen to it then tell our friends, instead of asking if it true or not. Just because it is fake news does not mean it always has to be so negative and bad. When the viral, “Pig saving drowning goat” video went viral it was met with a positive reaction all over the world. Yet, when Comedy Central’s “Nathan For You” by Nathan Fielder released the video showing how fake it was everyone was shocked. In this video Nathan, the one who put everything together had a plan to make Glen Petting Zoo a must-see. His plan was to stage a video of a pig saving a baby goat from drowning. He put a whole team together to make the whole thing seem so realist. In an article done titled “Dull Minds Are Gullible to Fake News.” by Tom Jacobs, he expresses what drives a person to believe something even it was proven wrong. He states it is “tribalism” (Jacobs). Tribalism is when someone or something belongs to a tribe or tribe. He gives an example of emotional incentive on why we believe it if a piece of information reflects badly on the other side—say, the ‘discovery’ that Barack Obama was born in Kenya (Jacobs). It points to a widespread development that leaves someone notably susceptible to misinformation—one which will be found among individuals of all races, nationalities, and political parties, this is usually called stupidity. “The ‘lingering influence’ of fake news ‘is dependent on an individual’s level of cognitive ability,’ psychologists Jonas De Keersmaecker and Arne Roets of Ghent University write in the journal Intelligence.” (Jacobs). What Jacobs is trying to explain is people with larger psychological features skills will do better than those with skills that are less advanced. He states they have trouble switching it. Jacobs explains that Keersmaecker and Roets did an experiment featuring 390 people they found online. In this research half of them scan an outline of a woman named Nathalie, a married nurse who worked in a hospital. Then they shared their general impressions of her, estimating her level of such qualities as warmth, trustiness, and sincerity. The other half scan a lengthier version of the minibiography. It expressed that Nathalie was caught stealing medication from the hospital, which she then sold out in order to afford designer items. They then wrote out the same scales. Afterward, they ‘saw an explicit message on their screen stating that the data concerning the stealing and dealing of medicine wasn’t true.’ They then read an amended version of the aforementioned description, and once more expressed their feelings toward the nurse. All participants stuffed out 2 questionnaires designed to spot psychological traits that are known with a reluctance to alter one’s mind. One measured right despotism, the opposite ‘need for closure,’ a.k.a. a scarcity of comfort with ambiguity. After taking all that into consideration the researchers stated “the false information effects never completely wore off in individuals with lower levels of cognitive ability.”, meaning once a person hears fake news, or anything not true, it becomes hard for them to push that to the side. As Jacobs writes as the closing, “That should provide a strong incentive to news organizations to get it right the first time. Unfortunately, it also gives unscrupulous politicians license to lie.”
In the end, fake news can be seen everywhere from printed news, broadcast news, social media, the news, and even your acquaintances. Everyone would like to believe we do not have bias or prejudiced beliefs, but in reality, we do. Alongside bias and prejudiced beliefs, we are also very gullible. Despite all this, we can change. Having an open and creative mind can help us in the long run. As stated before, we search for answers by asking questions that lead to answers that we want to hear. If we had more of an open mind it could lead us to a bias-free life. While wanting to have a gullible-free life we have problems like no one wanted to question information that we want to know. This is why it has become more common that we believe every bit of information that is handed to us. To help with this problem we need to have more of a creative mind. As it turns out change is not hard. We just have be open to change, more self-aware, and more questioning. Once we make these changes fake news won’t be a problem anymore.
- “The Backwards Brain Bicycle.” Performance by Destin Sandlin, YouTube, YouTube,5 Aug. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ybo4Lk3CI98.
- Braucher, David. “Fake News: Why We Fall For It.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/contemporary-psychoanalysis-in-action/201612/fake-news-why-we-fall-it.
- Davey-Attlee, Florence, and Isa Soares. “The Fake News Machine: Inside a Town Gearing up for 2020.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, 2017,www.money.cnn.com/interactive/media/the-macedonia-story/.
- Feehery, John. “Feehery: Confirmation Bias on Trump.” TheHill, 19 Dec. 2017, www.thehill.com/opinion/white-house/365522-feehery-confirmation-bias-on-trump.
- Jacobs, Tom. “Dull Minds Are Gullible to Fake News.” Pacific Standard, 13 Dec. 2017, www.psmag.com/news/dull-minds-are-gullible-to-fake-news.
- Mosbergen, Dominique. “Remember That Baby Goat-Saving Pig? It Was A Hoax.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/pig-rescues-baby-goat-hoax-nathan-for-you_n_2767409.
- “Nathan For You – Petting Zoo Hero.” Performance by Nathan Fielder, YouTube, YouTube, 26 Feb. 2013, www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2My_HOP-bw.
- Nepstad, Opinion by Daniel. “The Myths and the Truth about the Fires in the Amazon.” CNN, Cable News Network, 5 Sept. 2019, www.cnn.com/2019/09/05/opinions/amazon-fires-myths-and-truth-opinion-nepstad/index.html.
- Rasmussen, Louise, et al. “Confirmation Bias: 3 Effective (and 3 Ineffective) Cures.” Global Cognition, 12 Oct. 2018, www.globalcognition.org/confirmation-bias-3-cures/.
- Robson, David. “Why Are People so Incredibly Gullible?” BBC Future, BBC, 24 Mar. 2016, www.bbc.com/future/article/20160323-why-are-people-so-incredibly-gullible.