Why 98% of People Believe Everything on the Internet – Boy what a world we live in now! We read articles, we find information, we check out facts, and we try to understand everything through a quick google search! Our minds go through trillions of processes at any given second; sometimes it’s even hard to keep up. But here’s the thing: how do we know if what we read is true and not an elaborate lie? Well, there are some ways to figure it out.
1. Be on the lookout for cognitive bias
As humans, we try to understand how the world functions around us through the information we’re exposed to: by filtering, organizing and understanding. We do this subconsciously, to prevent our mind from getting overwhelmed. As the years go by, and we acquire more information, this process of our understanding becomes repetitive, which means that we process information through patterns based on our previous experiences.
In an attempt to simplify the information we’re exposed to, we take mental shortcuts that lead us sometimes on the wrong path. The errors we make when processing information is a phenomenon called Cognitive Bias, or in simpler words, it’s your own subjective social reality. You see, most of the time, we’re attracted to information that fits our personal narrative.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you’re browsing on your computer to find out if a certain diet will work for you. You’ll probably search something like: “Does this diet help you lose weight?” now, google, in return, will give you information that corresponds to your question – that the diet helps you lose weight.
But if you’re looking to gain weight, you’ll search the opposite. The results you’ll find are basically what you want to hear, therefore even your searches become biased. And this is backed up by investigation as well. Researchers from Ohio State University found that students who go online to browse for news stories and articles pick the ones that support their current subjective views.
Let’s take the story of the Loch Ness monster, for example. In 1934, there was a photo of the monster circling around through the media. This story made headlines fast and everyone believed it. It wasn’t until 1994 that a man confessed it was just a model made out of a submarine toy. – If you were to google “does the Loch Ness monster exist?” then images of theLoch Ness monster would show up.
2. Listen to what they’re not telling you
If you’ve worked in customer service, then you probably know this firsthand. When someone is physically attractive, and they give you positive non-verbal cues, like smiling or making eye contact, they can have more of an impact on you than the words they’re saying. So sometimes, all it takes is good eye-contact or a captivating photo, and you’re sold on the idea or the product.
This is what experts call the “Halo Effect”, which is actually a type of cognitive bias. You see, when we come across an attractive person, we subconsciously assume that they’re intelligent and capable. Many people in the media and powerful professions use their appearance and their non-verbalcues as a manipulative tool to gain credibility and use it to their advantage.
But, when you pay close attention to other nonverbal cues, you can decipher if someone is credible or not. Paul Ekman, otherwise known as the human lie detector, is an American psychologist who mastered the art of detecting liars through their body language, micro-expressions and tone of voice.
When someone is making a statement that’s not true, they tend to make micro-expressions that can happen in the blink of an eye, that’ll reveal the truth behind their words. It could be a frown or a grimace or raised eyebrows. Detectives use this technique during long interrogations, and they’re correct 80%of the time.
3. The logical propaganda
Carl Jung said, “People don’t have ideas, ideas have people”, and this pretty much explains propaganda and why we believe it. Propaganda is sort of a biased form of communication with the goal to influence people and make them support a belief – and when it comes to propaganda, it’s almost always driven by overly passionate people who fail to see things objectively.
There are countless examples of propaganda out in the world, and one you might not know about, is how eggs and bacon became the American breakfast. Back in the 1920s, Edward Bernays, who coincidentally was Freud’s nephew, was a marketing genius. He was able to use psychology to convince people to buy a certain product or idea.
His marketing strategies attracted the Beech-Nut Packing Company who wanted to increase their low bacon sales at the time. Edward Bernays had the idea to ask doctors if a breakfast heavier than butter on toast would be more beneficial to the American public. – See what he did there? He asked the question manipulatively to get the desired answer.
After he got his 1st yeses, he posed the same question to 5,000 doctors, and then presented his results to a newspaper with the “study” that bacon and eggs would be an ideal heavy breakfast for Americans, thus increasing bacon sales. So, what’s for breakfast tomorrow?You see, when someone tells you “according to a study”, you’re more likely to believe them, because it seems like it was truly researched. But sometimes even studies can be misinterpreted. So if you’re unsure about what you read, find the study and come up with your own conclusions.
4. It’s all about the sources
Donny Miller said, “In the age of information, ignorance is a choice”, and that’s true when you know where to look for accurate information. Let’s say you’re doing some math on your calculator. When you enter the wrong numbers in the equations, it’ll give the correct result, but it’ll still be wrong. The same principle applies to our brain.
When someone – hypothetically speaking, gets all their information from tabloid magazines,then that person’s perception of reality will be filled with misconceptions. It’s no secret that that the internet is filled with misinformation, and passive reading or listening isn’t enough these days. When it comes to accurate information, you need to dig deep and cross-reference.
So, when it comes to finding facts, use multiple sources for any piece of information that might seem dodgy. Now, I know I said that our internet is filled with misinformation, but don’t go digging out your dusty encyclopedias, because those are also available in online databases, as well as newspapers. All with just the click of a button.
5. Don’t give in to the Pierre Salinger Syndrome
Accessing all sorts of information is as eye-opening as it can get, but let’s not forget about those convincing hoaxes you can stumble upon online. We’ve seen thousands of posts and news articles putting out false information. There was one recently which stated that a celebrity couple had broken up, and it was written down to detail.
Since the news was going viral, more news pages started spreading the rumour as well,and it wasn’t stopped until the said couple went online to disprove them. Until then, almost everyone believed it. That’s why the couple had to come out to say otherwise. This is just a mild example of an internet hoax – and it’s called the Pierre Salinger Syndrome.
This started with journalist Pierre Salinger, who claimed that he’d obtained important information about the US government doing some questionable things with missiles. Of course, the rumour was disproven, but the hoaxes still remain online.
6. The captivating conspiracy theories
Whether we’re talking about Shakespeare’s works written by Sir Francis Bacon, the aliens in area 51, or secret societies, conspiracy theories are almost too addictive and interesting to pass by. But why are they so openly believed?Well, according to psychologist Michael Shermer, there’s a simple explanation for that.
It’s a perfect example of people creating their own patterns to give them a clearer understanding of the world. If an event is big enough, then it should match up with the cause. It’s more interesting to believe a lie, especially when it’s imprinted on your mind,than it is to believe the truth. The truth is sometimes boring, but a more interesting story behind an event with a logical explanation, is something that’ll grasp our attention for sure.
7. The illusory truth effect
When Hannibal Lecter said, “I’m having Bob over for dinner” – nope, that’snot right – he actually said “we covet what we see every day”, it translates to the internet world as “we believe what we see every day”, and this is called the illusory truth effect. This term was coined back in 1977 and describes the tendency to believe information to be correct when we are repeatedly exposed to it.
In other words, repeat a lie enough times, and people begin to accept it as truth. Let’s say I show you a red circle, and I tell you that the circle is white. You’ll roll your eyes, tell me it’s not and move on. The next day, someone else tells you the same thing, and it keeps happening every day whether you notice it or not.
You come across it every single time you go online or when someone points it out. At the end of the month, you’ll really start to believe that the circle is white, because you were told that more times than you were told the truth, and that’s another way we get brainwashed. The best way to avoid this kind of confusion is to adopt an attitude of scepticism: always fact check and remember that when we’re presented with facts that don’t really add up, they’re probably not true.
Alright, so What about you? Do you get influenced with what you come across online? Let me know down in the comments.