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Why We Believe Fake News

In the digital world of today, it’s more than likely that you’ve encountered fake news. Untrue articles are popping up left and right. We’ve all been warned to double check our sources and make sure they’re reliable, but even the best can fall prey to the trap of fake news. The question is: why?

An explanation that seems to be widely accepted is bias. People believe what they choose to believe. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If I find an article that confirms the way I think, I’m more likely to believe it because in my mind, I know I’m right (even if I’m not). However, that may not be the case.

A recent study done at the University of Toulouse Capitole (in France), showed 1,635 Americans a news feed. Some headlines were true, some were false, and the participants' job was to discern which headlines were true and which were false. The first round, they were simply asked to tell whether it was real or fake from a glance, while at the same time thinking about something completely unrelated to the news feed. Then the second time around, they had to do the same thing, except they were given more time to think about it with no other distractions. Surprise, when people were given more time to think about their choices, they were able to find the fake news more often, regardless of their worldview.

So how does this apply to us? All this study is saying is that when you’re scrolling through social media or your news feed, think about what may be true and what may be false. Chances are, you’ll be right and will stick to the facts.

Adding on to that, when we repeatedly see fake news, we tend to believe it more often. That’s because of an ancient survival tactic that’s embedded into our brains. All it does is tell us familiar = good. When fake news starts to become more familiar, we start to perceive it as real.

Now that we know why we believe fake news, how do we stop thinking it’s real? Fact-checking is the name of the game. It may seem like a lot of work, but we’re all taught how to do it. Check if other sources are saying the same thing, and make sure you don’t click on shady links in the first place. Stick to sites you know give you the best, most unbiased information. If you’re looking at political news in the US, I encourage you to take a look at this social media bias chart. It gives you lots of big names in the news industry, and places them from far-left to far-right.

You now have many tools to aid you on your journey. Remember to always keep an open mind, take time to think about what you have just read, and fact-check. Happy news-hunting!




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