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Why we believe fake news

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190905-how-our-brains-get-overloaded-by-the-21st-century

bbc.com

Why we believe fake news
It's commonplace to say that we're all deluged by more information than we can possibly handle. Less commonplace is the acknowledgement that human judgements also rely upon secondary information that doesn't come from any external source - and that offers one of the most powerful tools we possess for dealing with the deluge itself.

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Information storms

Information storms

We often feel overwhelmed when we are exposed to a large volume of information. We also rely on secondary knowledge that does not come from any external source.

To put it another way: rightly or wrongly, we think what other people think. The digital culture has taken this reliance on social information to a new level, with new sets of hazards, anxieties, manipulation and influence.

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How misinformation builds

How misinformation builds
  • When we encounter unfamiliar information on a social network, we verify it in one of two ways. We either go through the burdensome process of countless claims and counter-claims to understand if it is true, or we rely on others by way of social proof.
  • If we search for online information, instead of coming up with our own way of assessing the quality or the usefulness of every website,  we rely on Google's PageRank algorithm to come up with the best sites. In essence, we rely on other people to source information by use of user traffic, reviews, ratings, clicks and likes.

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How to handle an infostorm

How to handle an infostorm

Infostorms are like actual storms: they are a product of climatic conditions. Different climates can produce different results.

The more we understand the chain of events that led to a particular view, the better we are equipped to appreciate it if we are skeptical or take into account other perspectives.

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Paradox of knowledge

The increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous.

Instead, it makes us more dependent on other people's judgments and...

From Information to Reputation

There is a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge from 'information age', moving towards the 'reputation age'.

This shift involves valuing information only if it has already been filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. From this perspective, reputation has become a central pillar or gatekeeper of collective intelligence. We become reliant on biased judgments of other people.

Reliant on reputation

If you are asked why you believe in, for instance, the big changes in climate, you might answer that:

  • You trust the reputation of scientific research and believe that peer-review is a reasonable way of sifting out 'truths'. 
  • You trust newspapers, magazines or TV channels that endorse a political view that supports scientific research to summarise its findings for you. (Here you are twice-removed from the source - you trust other people's trust in science.)
Even in conspiracy theories, people trust secondhand information based on the reputation of the sources.

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The Santa Claus story

The Santa Claus story

Studies state that 83 percent of five-year-olds think Santa Claus is real.

Many children are told that Santa Claus is a man who lives forever, lives at the North Pole, know...

Children will believe anything

Children are prone to believing in just about anything. A sceptical child has less chance of surviving than the child who unthinkingly listens to his parent's advice.

However, research shows that children are rational and thoughtful consumers of information. Children use many of the same tools as adults to decide what to believe.

Tools to decide what to believe

Adults use three tools to decide what to believe:

  • The context in which you are introduced to new information will guide your judgment to accept it.
  • The tendency to measure new information against existing knowledge.
  • The ability to evaluate the expertise of other people.

Children use the same tools to decide what to believe. When children hear about something in a fantastical context, they are less likely to think it is real than if they heard about it in a scientific context or from a knowledgeable person.

Accepting doesn't mean giving up

Stoicism is about accepting the facts as they are and then deciding what you’re going to do about them. Nobody recommends denial. Accept. And then do something

Events don’t upset you

Beliefs about events do. Bad feelings are caused by irrational beliefs, so if you’re feeling negative emotions, focus on the belief you hold about what happens. 

For stoics there is no good or bad, there’s only perception. And you control perception. 

Control what you can

Ignore the rest. We worry about things that we have no control over. But worrying never fixed anything

The stoics are saying that if you focus your energy on what you can change, you’re going to be a lot more productive and effective.