We need to change the way we think—which means we need the critical tools of the humanitiesby Linda Risso / June 21, 2017 / Leave a comment
In January 2017, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee launched an inquiry into fake news and social media. The inquiry was supposed to look into the role of non-traditional news sources, which put out unverified items that are then picked up and magnified by mainstream media. Damian Collins, chairman of the committee, said the trend was “a threat to democracy”.
Fake news wears down of the threads of our society. It exposes the public to manipulation in ways that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Fake news is not simply lies. While lying presupposes an interest in what is true, fake news promotes a casual detachment from reality. Experts are dismissed as one of the main voices in the debate. Everything is equally possible and nothing is really true. This leads to a post-truth environment in which trust in institutions, governments and experts crumbles at incremental speed. The public is left exposed, confused and scared.
The question is: what can we do about it? So far official advice has put pressure on the public to become wiser Internet users: get out of your bubble, check the source of the information you read, only rely on trustworthy, reputable sources.
Fact checking seems to be the best answer. NATO and the EU were the first to set up fact checking task forces to counter information attacks coming from Russia. Germany has passed a law against spreading fake news. Pressure has also been put on Internet corporations to fight proactively against fake news by offering advice to their users and by removing swiftly any item that is false and misleading.
The problem is that fact checking alone does not work. In fact, more often than not, it makes the problem more acute. The work of cognitive scientists on confirmation bias amply demonstrates that we are quite skilled in spotting the weaknesses in others’ arguments. The problem is that we are stubbornly blind about flaws in our own thinking. This is what Mercier and Dan Sperber call “myside bias.”
The “illusion of explanatory depth” theory is equally helpful to understand the pervasiveness of fake news. Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach explain how we rely on one another’s expertise to such an extent that…