Why we forget to ask if its fake or fact

Why we forget to ask if its fake or fact

Here is a list of some of the choicest statements from the president of the United States, the so-called head of the free world, about then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton…

  • She has a serious chronic illness
  • She is sleeping all the time
  • She founded ISIS “literally” with President Obama
  • Trump blamed the tax code that allowed him to not pay millions in taxes on her
  • She wants to eliminate the second amendment
  • She started the birther movement
  • She will be indicted (after Comey’s letter to Congress)
  • Her Emails (in relation to Anthony Wiener’s computer) are worse than Watergate

Founded ISIS, always asleep, started the birther movement… for goodness sake. And it helped get him elected. What is wrong with people?

This stuff is just ugly and anyone should know that it is fake.

Each one either a blatant falsehood or hugely disrespectful drivel that I really shouldn’t be printing again.

No matter what your political allegiance nobody should have anything to do with such nonsense. It demeans everyone, especially the person who went on the be the president. Please, heaven help us all.

These choice examples are easy to spot as fake. There is not even a loose fact among them.


Source: US academic Professor David Ross


What about these…

  • Urgent: Koalas could be extinct in NSW as early as 2050. We can’t let this happen — WWF website
  • “Climate change has not caused the [2019-20] bushfires, unprecedented arson has” — Australian Liberal MP Craig Kelly
  • An electric vehicle won’t tow your trailer. It’s not going to tow your boat. It’s not going to get you out to your favourite camping spot with your family.” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
  • I want to stress that for the vast majority of the people of this country, we should be going about our business as usual.” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 3 March 2020

How do you decide if these claims are fake or fact? Do you even bother? It is hard after all.

Most information comes at us all polished and convincing. The presenters are slick, the writers persuasive and the messages short. Why wouldn’t we believe such well-rounded packets of influence?

All of those in the list above are false with only modest provisos.

There are many reasons for our failure to spot fake claims and fake news

Information overload

An average smartphone owner in a mature economy is exposed to more information in a day that many of our ancestors saw in their lifetimes.

Here is what one set of information scientists think goes on…

In 2011, Americans took in five times as much information every day as they did in 1986—the equivalent of 174 newspapers. During our leisure time, not counting work, each of us processes 34 gigabytes, or 100,000 words, every day. The world’s 21,274 television stations produce 85,000 hours of original programming every day as we watch an average of five hours of television daily, the equivalent of 20 gigabytes of audio-video images.

The reliability of these numbers is not important here. The point is that we are all awash in information, all the time we are awake.

This can swamp our filters and certainly our reflection time so a lot of information is believed to be true because there is not time to decide otherwise before the next packet of critical information arrives.

Much of the information we receive is true

When your phone beeps an alert that your 9 am meeting is in 10 minutes, it is true. There is no reason to ever doubt it.

When you press the icon in your favourites tab to ring your better half and its answered, hostile takeover or the cleaner being helpful notwithstanding, it will be your better half who answers.

If my phone rings and the icon says it is my sister, I answer. When she tells me that my mother passed away in the night, I believe her.

Read a tweet from Brixton Barry that says “Holy shit, here is a riot going on” and, well, maybe there is, Brixton has had riots before… And why would he call himself Brixton Barry unless he… well, you get the idea.

But hold on, that was a long time ago and who is Barry? In this case I would be sceptical unless more tweets began rolling through the feed, perhaps with an image or two, before I believe what Barry is saying.

It is more likely that the tweet from Brixton Barry passes by my sceptic filter because so much information already has and has not caused an issue.

Plus if I live in Detroit or Hounslow, a riot in Brixton might not be worth a fact check.

An endnote

Here is what the late, great author Terry Pratchett said about the spread of fake news on the Internet back in 1995…

“Let’s say I call myself the Institute for Something-or-other and I decide to promote a spurious treatise saying the Jews were entirely responsible for the second world war and the Holocaust didn’t happen and it goes out there on the Internet and is available on the same terms as any piece of historical research which has undergone peer review and so on. There’s a kind of parity of esteem of information on the net. It’s all there: there’s no way of finding out whether this stuff has any bottom to it or whether someone has just made it up”.

Terry Pratchett

That was 1995 remember, near to the beginning of the whole internet age. It was prescient certainly but it was also sage advice.

Go to the source for any information that is important and if there is no source, go generate that information yourself.


Comment below if you feel the urge and please share with your online folks