People are feeling duped by “fake news.” You’ve probably also fallen for misinformation, but don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead of blaming it on plain gullibility or ignorance, blame it on the psychological phenomenon called the illusory truth effect.
What is the Illusory Truth Effect?
When we hear a statement often enough, we’ll start to believe that it must be true. From conspiracy theories to middle school gossip, the illusory truth effect has a powerful influence on our perception of the truth.
How do you think rumors spread? Consider the popular myth that you only use 10 percent of your brain. Maybe you first heard it from a friend. Interesting, but you’re no neuroscientist, and neither are they. But later, you see an article online touting the same news. Could your friend be right? The next day, you notice a different article, and you also overhear someone tell somebody else the same thing. You now believe the statement must be true, and now it’s your turn to tell someone.
Our tendency to believe repeated arguments may have to do with what our brains find pleasant to process. We tend to prefer thoughts that are easy to process and require less energy than thoughts that are difficult to digest. For example, people tend to believe statements that are written in easy-to-read colors or catchy rhyme schemes because those statements are easier to process.
Fake News Rules on Social Media
The consequences of the illusory truth effect are only amplified by social media platforms. Social media has spurred the spread of fake news, and with more Americans obtaining news from social media than ever before, fake news is reaching more people than real news content.
A study that analyzed “rumor cascades” on Twitter between 2006 and 2017 found that falsehoods spread faster than truth. Fake news stories were able to reach up to 100 times as many people as true news stories. Moreover, bots are not to blame – the study claimed that bots spread real news just as fast as they spread fake news. When it comes to misinformation, “humans, not robots, are more likely to spread it.”
Social media makes spreading uninformed Tweets or sensational news stories as easy as pressing the “share” button. Because individuals, businesses, news outlets, and celebrities have larger platforms that are more interconnected, anybody is vulnerable to believing – and sharing – misinformation.
What’s the Truth?
Fake news can be dangerous, especially when it spreads sentiments such as false political claims or propagandic sentiment. However, computers might be able to detect such misinformation. Researchers are working with artificial intelligence to create computer algorithms that can detect fake news. Analyzing data from both real and fake stories, computers may be able to discern fact from fiction, reducing the number of instances of online misinformation.
Artificial intelligence can process and analyze far more data at far faster speeds than any human could. However, AI and humans will likely need to work together to effectively combat the spread of misinformation. Until then, you can take measures of your own to spot fake news in your feed.