By Bob Ward for The Guardian
Can you spot fake news? Here are the headlines of three recent stories that received wide coverage: “Putin issues international arrest warrant for George Soros”; “A baby born in California was named heart eyes emoji”; “Criminal farts so loudly he gives away his hiding place”. Did you recognise that only one of these stories was true – the third one?
This is the type of test that Sander van der Linden, a professor of social psychology in society at Cambridge University, likes to use in experiments, as outlined in his fascinating, if slightly terrifying, new book.
Van der Linden has found that only about 4% of participants in these tests can correctly identify all the bogus stories presented to them. You are probably thinking that, as the reader of a serious national newspaper, you would not be fooled so easily, but Van der Linden explains clearly why we are all vulnerable. We all have a tendency to accept information that is consistent with our prior beliefs, and reject that which is not, resulting in confirmation bias.
Some of us are also more likely to believe in wild conspiracy stories – from secret microchips in vaccines to stolen elections – but most of us are unaware of how often we are duped by the things we read and hear. And Van der Linden warns that there is growing evidence that our inability to filter out misinformation is putting many lives at risk and undermining democracy across the world.
He cites a 2021 YouGov survey that found shocking levels of delusion across 21 countries. For instance, 42% of people in Spain and Greece think there is a secret group of individuals who are running the world, compared with 31% in the US and a still astonishing 18% in the UK. And while only 8% of people in the UK share Donald Trump’s view that global warming is a hoax, one in five of Americans do.
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