Misinformation grows quickly
It is easier and much quicker to lie, or to invent something that sounds right, or that people might want to believe, than it is to research a topic thoroughly, and check that everything you have read is correct and that your understanding (of everything involved) is accurate.
- Note a source does not have to be deliberately lying. There is no difference between a lie and a mistake as far as misinformation is concerned.
If you release a lot of lies, and are like Trump and get a lot of coverage, then you can see which ones are taken up, and follow them up with more reinforcing fake news to fill in the gaps and help convince people that misinformation is real.
Misinformation evolves. That which appeals to its audience, will spread the furthest. Random misinformation allows the audience to choose what to spread on its own.
Social bias as a filter
In information society, there is always way too much information out there to evaluate it properly or test it for truth. Testing information takes time and dedication. Consequently, the main ways of judging information is:
- By whether it harmonises with information, attitudes, cosmologies, religions or morals, you already have, or with actions you already take or would like to take.
- By whether it is promoted by people who you consider to be be members of your group, or having a similar identity.
- By whether it is promoted by high status people who you consider to be members of your group.
- By whether it makes your groups virtuous and outgroups vicious, immoral or evil.
- By whether it will cost you social status to accept or refuse to accept the information.
- By how essential the information becomes for acting within your main groups.
- By whether it promotes emotions that are righteous in your group.
- If its promoted by people you dislike, and distrust, who contradict those in your groups, then its probably fake.
Information will be judged socially. Acceptance is geared towards survival in particular groups, with particular kind of identities, and maintaining hostility towards other groups.
The more you think your ‘opponents’ are lying, the more excuse there is to lie yourself.
The less identity groups are polarised, or separated, and the more they are included in a wider category (such as ‘fellow Australians’), then the more likely that information can be evaluated with accuracy.
Information as programming
Information tells people what is important in life and the world, what they should look for, and what counts as data. This is sometimes known as the “theory dependence of observation”.
Another way of describing this is via the slogans: “Perception involves interpretation,” “We put meaning onto the world.” “Our thoughts shape the world we perceive”.
This process is not an completely unbreakable loop, but it can be hard to break.
Humans tend to find what they are looking for, so if you program people with the right misinformation, then they will soon find their own misinformation and see connections that are not there. If those connections get taken up, then even more people will fall into the trap. Especially if agreeing with information becomes tied in with their membership of a group and of an identity – and people start indicating that the person is not a proper ‘X’ because they don’t accept the ‘truth’.
As suggested earlier, if authoritative people in the group start repeating the misinformation as true, and it points to the evils of an outgroup, then it is even more likely to be believed, and never to be challenged. The consequences are too high. More misinformation will be produced in order to make the misinformation, and the world it reveals, more believable.
Having their attention directed away from reality, and into confirmation bias and group loyalty, normally increases a person’s incapacity to interact with the world as that world is. Misinformation can increase stupidity, lower resilience, and lead to a bad end, as people ignore real problems and complexities in favour of imaginary problems and simplicities or complications.
Misinformation thrives because accuracy is hard, requires checking and is limited. Misinformation does not have to be checked to see if its accurate, and it can go anywhere that people take it. If information is tied into a group identity, that it becomes even harder to stop, because stopping it challenges group and individual identity and can be seen as an imposition on a person’s liberty.