What Makes People Susceptible to Fake News

Susceptibility to fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than by partisan bias. Which on one hand sounds—let's be honest—pretty bad. But it also implies that getting people to be more discerning isn't a lost cause. Changing people's ideologies, which are closely bound to their sense of identity and self, is notoriously difficult. Getting people to think more critically about what they're reading could be a lot easier, by comparison.

Then again, maybe not. 

Anyone who has sat and stared vacantly at their phone while thumb-thumb-thumbing to refresh their Twitter feed, or closed out of Instagram only to re-open it reflexively, has experienced firsthand what it means to browse in such a brain-dead, ouroboric state. Default settings like push notifications, autoplaying videos, algorithmic news feeds—they all cater to humans' inclination to consume things passively instead of actively, to be swept up by momentum rather than resist it. 

This isn't baseless philosophizing; most folks just tend not to use social media to engage critically with whatever news, video, or sound bite is flying past. As one recent study shows, most people browse Twitter and Facebook to unwind and defrag—hardly the mindset you want to adopt when engaging in cognitively demanding tasks.

David Rand—a behavioral scientist at MIT—says he has experiments in the works that investigate whether nudging people to think about the concept of accuracy can make them more discerning about what they believe and share. In the meantime, he suggests confronting fake news espoused by other people not necessarily by lambasting it as fake, but by casually bringing up the notion of truthfulness in a non-political context. You know: just planting the seed. It won't be enough to turn the tide of misinformation. But if our susceptibility to fake news really does boil down to intellectual laziness, it could make for a good start.

Robbie Gonzalez writing in Wired Magazine 

Jenni Berrett: Proof that I was a worthless piece of Garbage

I spend days at a time in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking of all the things I could be doing but can’t because I know I would do them imperfectly. I lose countless hours to inner monologues filled with self-hatred and all-or-nothing thinking. I don’t read anything, instead preferring to slowly crush myself with the existential weight of knowing that I will never be able to Read All The Things.

For a very long time, I thought that I did this because I was lazy. I figured that if I just worked a little harder, tried a little more, then I would be able to accomplish the things I set out to do. Failing to do them was a failure of my character. It was because I was a bad person, or at least bad at being a person.

I told myself that I had to get my act together; I had to do all of these things so that I could prove I wasn’t the worthless piece of garbage I thought I was. When I inevitably cracked under that pressure, I took it as proof that I was a worthless piece of garbage.

If all of this sounds repetitive, that’s because it is. It’s a vicious, repetitive, monotonous cycle. It moves at breakneck speed, but also not at all. Experiencing it is the most damning case against perfectionism I have ever come across. Expecting perfection only leaves you with two options: do everything right on the very first try, or don’t even bother. Which is actually only one option, since 9 times out of 10, human beings don't do things right on the first try.

Jenni Berrett writing in Ravishly

Observed Behavior is Changed Behavior

When the lead singer at the concert asks you to scream as loud as you can, and then he asks again, going, “I can’t hear you! You can do better than that!” have you ever noticed that the second time is always louder? Why wasn’t everyone yelling at the top of their lungs the first time? Some really cool scientists actually tested this in 1979. (They) had people shout as loud as they could in a group and then alone, or vice-versa. Sure enough, the overall loudness of a small group of people was less than any one of them by themselves. You can even chart it on a graph. The more people you add, the less effort any one person does.

If you know you aren’t being judged as an individual, your instinct is to fade into the background. To prove this, psychologist Alan Ingram ruined tug-of-war forever. In 1974, he had people put on a blindfold and grab a rope. The rope was attached to a rather medieval-looking contraption that simulated the resistance of an opposing team. The subjects were told many other people were also holding the rope on their side, and he measured their efforts. Then, he told them they would be pulling alone, and again he measured. There were alone both times, but when they thought they were in a group, they pulled 18 percent less strenuously on average.

This behavior is more likely to show up when the task a hand is simple. With complex tasks, it is usually easy to tell who isn’t pulling their weight. Once you know your laziness can be seen, you try harder. You do this because of another behavior called evaluation apprehension, which is just a fancy way of saying you care more when you know you are being singled out. Your anxiety levels decrease when you know your effort will be pooled with others’. You relax. You coast.

David McRaney, You are Not so Smart

When you get down to it, this is what love looks like...

Keeping one's eye on a four-year-old at the beach, concentrating on an interminable disjointed story told by a six-year-old, teaching an adolescent how to drive, truly listening to the tale of your spouse's day at the office or laundromat, and understanding his or her problems from the inside, attempting to be as consistently patient and bracketing as much as possible--all these are tasks that are often boring, frequently inconvenient and always energy-draining; they mean work. If we were lazier we would not do them at all. If we were less lazy we would do them more often or better. Since love is work, the essence of nonlove is laziness.

M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled