Hoaxes. We’ve all seen them make the rounds online.
If you were on Facebook last year, chances are you know somebody who posted a copy-pasted status message that would have supposedly prevented Facebook from exploiting your private photos. In fact, you might have even shared that message yourself. By now you’ve probably already figured out that it was a hoax. And, while the status message itself was harmless, it nonetheless drew the ire of many Facebook users who were tired of seeing the same thing posted and re-posted over and over again.
A more recent Facebook hoax involves unfounded rumors that the social networking site will soon be charging users for its services. Another one warned people not to accept friend requests from a so-called hacker named Jayden K. Smith. All of these these things had one thing in common – they were all lies.
So, why do so many people fall for something that’s obviously false? Why are people so eager to believe in hoaxes?
1. Short attention spans and the rise of clickbait
How many times have you clicked ‘like’ on an attention-grabbing headline without reading the actual story? In today’s fast-paced world, people don’t have time to focus on things like fact-checking and source verification. Our collective attention span has gotten shorter due to the constant stream of information we receive. This leads to an overload of information and a severely compromised attention span.
2. Appealing to fear
Imagine if all of your private photos and messages were suddenly made public online. It would probably ruin your reputation. Doesn’t that scare you? Hoaxes and fake news articles rely on that fear to keep people from making clear and logical decisions. It is this appeal to fear that caused all those people to share stories that had no reputable sources to support them. Fear causes anxiety, which leads to poor decision-making. Think about that the next time you blindly believe in some random internet article.
3. Prone to confirmation bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for information that supports your pre-existing beliefs and to disregard evidence that supports the other side. This is most apparent when people react to fake news stories that seemingly provide evidence that backs up their personal beliefs and claims. Everybody wants to be proven right and hoaxes and fake news articles exploit that desire.
4. “Ignorance is bliss”
In “Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College,” Thomas Grey, an English poet and professor at Pembroke College in Cambridge, wrote the iconic words, “ignorance is bliss.” In his poem, Grey was referring to the wide-eyed idealism of youth and the joy that it brought. He concluded that as we grow older and more knowledgeable about the world, we also become more miserable. This quote has since spread across popular culture and has been used to justify widespread misinformation and unawareness. The majority of people choose ignorance because it’s easier. They choose to remain unaware because the truth can sometimes be cruel. The truth can sometimes hurt.
These reasons are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to hoaxes and fake news. To truly understand and prevent the spread of lies and misinformation, we must educate ourselves and take everything we read or hear about with a grain of salt.
Stay vigilant, netizens! Don’t just click on everything. Start reading and verify your sources.