How fake news targets our minds?

The psychology behind falling victim to fake news and misleading information

I am sure we all would have been a victim of misinformation or fake news, in this convenient tech-savvy world, right? Looking at social media and believing those false rumors about celebrities, going through fake whatsapp messages in your family group and believing it for a microsecond, only to realize later that it is in fact a misleading piece of information. Misleading information has crippled the human mind in several ways and paralysed the rationality of the human mind. Especially, during the pandemic when all of our phones would have been flooded with false claims about home remedies to cure covid at home and about the harmful side effects of vaccines. And, we all have been troubled over the mass consumption and spread of false information which created panic all around the world.

According to a study by the University of Michigan, there were a total of 243 instances of misinformation in just a week related to coronavirus, just after the virus broke out. This shows that human minds fall prey to misinformation due to fear and paranoia. The Pandemic is living proof of how even the most literate audience can become a victim of Fake News easily through social media. People out of fear and desperation were falling prey to these fake news and forwarding them to others without rationally thinking, hence creating a chain.

Another study depicts one of the major reasons why our mind instantly believes forwarded messages is the credibility that the message creates as we begin to think that people before us must have found this information useful, so we too share it further without confirming it. At times, we also start believing news without fully comprehending its meaning.

Whenever we come across any piece of information, we read the first half, and assume it to be true, on the basis of specific terms like, “claimed” “confirmed”. At times the mentioning of some noteworthy sources like the World Health Organization also tricks our mind into believing the misleading information and considering it as a fact. For instance, a fake tweet, took rounds around the Social Media in May 2022 which talked about a muslim man from rajasthan, thanking the chief minister Ashok Gehlot for bailing him out of the prison at midnight.

The tweet was declared false, after it was fact checked by the Jodhpur Police. But initially, the reason people believed it was due to the mention of Ashok Gehlot, who is a significant personality.

Most times when we read the first half of the news which has the following terms like, “claimed” “confirmed” or mention of some trustworthy source, our mind automatically wires itself into believing the piece of information. For instance, a fake tweet took rounds around the social media in May, 2022, in which the man thanked Ashok Gehlot, the chief Minister of Rajasthan for getting him and his family members bailed at night. The tweet was fact checked by the Jodhpur police and the tweet was declared as fake. But what led to people believing it was the mention of Ashok Gehlot and the platform, twitter.

Fake news also becomes believable easily because certain information gives us a sense of familiarity, and therefore it seems more attractive to believe in.

For instance, a study looked at fake news headlines from the 2016 US Presidential Election. The researchers discovered that even one display of a title (such as "Donald Trump Sent His Own Plane to Transport 200 Stranded Marines," based on fraudulent claims, was sufficient to enhance belief in its content. This effect lasted at least a week, was discovered even when headlines were accompanied by a factcheck notice, and even when participants suspected it was fake. This was due to their strong belief around Donald Trump and this led them to believe the fake news so easily. This shows that the misleading information is often constructed in a way that it satisfies your belief system and hence provides relief to your ideas and notions.

Now, in a generation where all information can be fake and misleading it is difficult to rewire your mind into rationality rather than attractive news, or news that feeds your ideologies. Therefore, it is crucial to fight and debunk fake news and to resist it by not falling prey to it.

Similarly, it is also extremely crucial to be more aware about methods to fact check information and to understand the false accounts and websites that spread misleading information. The fight against fake news is every individual’s battle and it is essential to understand that the only way to resist it is to be aware and cautious and to think more reasonably.