Fake news is an increasingly pressing problem in recent years. From social media to traditional news outlets, it seems like false information is being spread everywhere, and people are falling for it. But why do people fall for fake news? What makes them believe something that isn't true?
Let’s explore the main reasons.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, and remember information in a way that confirms one's pre-existing beliefs. In other words, people tend to believe information that supports what they already think is true and ignore information that contradicts it.
If someone thinks that vaccines might be harmful, they are more likely to believe a news story that confirms this belief, even if the story has shaky or untrustworthy sources. This is because the false story confirms their existing belief, and they are more likely to overlook any evidence that contradicts it.
Social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram use algorithms to show users content that they are likely to engage with. This means that if someone frequently engages with content that is misleading or false, the algorithm is more likely to show them similar content in the future. This process can lead to the formation of a filter bubble. Filter bubble can reinforce their beliefs and makes them more likely to fall for fake news in the future.
Algorithms also push people down confirming paths. If I am hesitant about vaccines, I may watch videos explaining the pros and cons, the algorithm will then assume my interest in this content pushing more and more content towards me that confirms this hesitation. This leads to radicalization. Beware the rabbit hole.
Lack of media literacy
Media literacy refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in a variety of forms. Unfortunately, many people lack media literacy skills, which makes them more susceptible to falling for fake news.
Someone who doesn't know how to fact-check a news story might more susceptible to falling for stories that quote unverified sources. Similarly, someone who doesn't understand how news organizations operate might not realize that a particular news outlet has a history of spreading false information.
In a world of quick consumption, and sophisticated fake media, it is easy for even more highly media-literate consumers to fall for misleading for false stories.
Fake news often appeals to people's emotions, which can make it more convincing. For example, a false story about a particular group of people committing a terrible crime might make someone feel angry or scared, which can make them more likely to believe the story, even if it isn't true.
Similarly, fake news stories that are designed to appeal to people's political or ideological beliefs can be particularly effective. This is because people are often very passionate about their political beliefs, and they are more likely to believe information that supports their political views, even if it's false.
Lack of trust in mainstream media
Many people don't trust mainstream media outlets, which can make them more susceptible to fake news. This lack of trust can be due to a variety of factors including:
Perceptions of media bias.
Distrust of authority figures.
Belief that the mainstream media is controlled by a small group of powerful people.
When people don't trust mainstream media outlets, they are more likely to turn to alternative sources of information, such as social media or alternative news websites. Unfortunately, these sources of information are often less reliable, and people are more likely to fall for fake news as a result.
Confirmation bias, social media algorithms, lack of media literacy, emotional appeals, and lack of trust in mainstream media are just a few of the main ingredients that have led to the proliferation of fake news online and it’s a success. Understanding our susceptibilities to these factors helps us take a step back and evaluate what media we are consuming and whether it is to be believed.