Why Misinformation Is Less Of An Issue Than You Would Believe

QAnon, anti-vaccine groups, and anti-lockdown protests are just a few examples of widespread belief. Things that we are living in an age of disinformation, alternative truths, and conspiracy theories.

As a result of the proliferation of partisan news networks and social media, wild falsehoods may now influence or even alter governments.  Nevertheless, is this the case, or are we simply amplifying the problem of false information? Many of our commonly held opinions on the subject are based on unsubstantiated rumors.

There are only a few people that believe in conspiracy theories. How many individuals are influenced by conspiracy theories based on misinformation? Not many, as it turns out. Controversial theories like QAnon get a lot of attention. Thus, many of their adherents were among those who stormed the United States Capitol. However, these viewpoints are still uncommon.

Throughout his campaign, Trump pushed the “Birther lie.” It shows that Barack Obama was not born in the US, and he pumped out grossly incorrect data on crime rates and unemployment. It is another misconception that only a few of us have the strength to stand up to the constant barrage of misinformation. A manipulative elite would have us all as their eager slaves if we were that easily duped! According to Hugo Mercier, a French social and cognitive scientist, humans have “open vigilance” cognitive mechanisms that prohibit this from occurring.

Our typical response to new knowledge is to evaluate it neutrally. Can’t we see each other? Where does this incorrect data come from? In the first place, our capacity to analyze info is far from ideal. Daniel Kahneman revealed that there are systematic cognitive mistakes. It includes the “availability heuristic” and the “omission bias,” which are based on the assumption that we always behave in our interests.

Vaccine reluctance can be traced back to one of two mistakes. If a rare vaccination’s adverse effect is widely publicized, many people will focus on this danger. The inference is at play here. According to the “backfire effect,” not only do people avoid the knowledge that contradicts their past views. But confronting them with this information simply strengthens their belief in that viewpoint.

Being unvaccinated is viewed as a low-risk option. And also taking action is viewed as a high-risk option by many (getting vaccinated). The omission bias is to blame. Misinformation and a lack of cognitive thinking go hand in hand, as evidenced by the former. However, irrationality is only one part of the puzzle. It is important to go beyond people’s numeracy abilities when trying to understand why they subscribe to conspiracy theories like QAnon.

We are a cohesive unit. We are more inclined to believe a falsehood if it comes from someone we already trust, as Mercier has pointed out. As a social species, we humans excel. We have adapted to rely on cultural norms and shared values to keep our communities together. We must occasionally suspend our disbelief to get along with others.

In 2016, although 81% of Democrats thought President Barack Obama was born in the US, just 25% of Republicans felt the same. This is a well-known effect of political polarisation on American acceptance of the Birther myth. Birtherism and QAnon are two examples of misinformation that people are willing to swallow to join in with their group.

What can we do to assist those who have been misled? It has been difficult for some of us to try to persuade a loved one who has been misled by disinformation regarding vaccination to rethink their minds. Following the “backfire effect,” a popular hypothesis, individuals not only reject information that runs counter to their preexisting views but presenting them with it simply reinforces their devotion to their preexisting opinions.

There would be no sense in debating if this idea was correct. Unfortunately, the backlash or backfire effect is a well-known misconception. Since doing hundreds of experiments on persuasion, I have never witnessed a reaction in any of them. My email correspondence with Yale persuasion specialist Alexander Coppock led me to this person.

Why is it that this notion continues to circulate? Coppock thinks it is because disagreeing hurts his feelings. He remarked, “When we try to convince other people, it doesn’t go well and they don’t like us any less because of it.” What’s the next step? After we attempt to persuade, we reassure ourselves that the individual who holds the view is just incorrect, if not foolish.

We shouldn’t let our failures at persuasion discourage us from trying again. We know from experiments that even people who have firmly held beliefs may change their minds when provided new information that is correct and up-to-date.

Clear, correct information typically drives us on the right path, even if some of us need more time to be convinced. Keeping it from becoming an either/or situation is crucial. You need to make others feel as though they are part of a larger group to build trust and empathy. You have a higher chance of rescuing someone from the depths of ignorance if you can make them feel understood.