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Opinion: Navigating web of misinformation

www.telanganatoday.com | December 20, 2023

Fake news tends to be more memorable, leading people to assign greater significance to content that triggers strong emotional reactions

In our fast-paced era of technological advancement and pervasive digital integration, the urgency to address the menace of fake news and its sway over public opinion cannot be overstated. The rapid diversification of media has turned individuals into avid consumers of various outlets, reshaping the landscape of information distribution.

Without our awareness, our continuous exposure makes us vulnerable to the dangerous repercussions of misinformation, as misleading news takes advantage of our unsuspecting minds. We find ourselves deliberately ensnared in the intricate vines of falsehood, an occurrence that transcends conscious understanding and subtly moulds our perceptions.

As we navigate this complex web of misinformation, the fabric of how we perceive the world undergoes an inconspicuous transformation. Understanding the subtle ways false information influences people mentally is vital for establishing practical approaches for reducing its adverse effects.

The Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias causes individuals to favour information that supports their own opinions or moral principles. This bias can lead to a limited and one-sided view of situations, hindering open-mindedness and objective analysis of information. It can impede objectivity and open-mindedness by producing a constrained and biased perspective on the world.

Fake news stories often exploit confirmation bias by presenting information tailored to people’s beliefs. Confirmation bias appears as an important component in the adoption of fake news. This bias encompasses an inclination to gravitate towards information that affirms already existing notions, fostering the echo-chamber effect. When people receive information that validates their pre-existing worldview, they are more inclined to accept it without hesitation. Reinforcement of beliefs contributes to solidifying incorrect information into individuals’ cognitive frameworks, exerting a significant influence on shaping their views of reality. The consumed fake news will affect our opinions, feelings and decision-making processes.

Availability Heuristic

People prefer to judge or create views based on readily available information or knowledge that can be easily recalled from memory. This is called the availability heuristic. This worsens the issue by prompting individuals to rely heavily on easily accessible or recalled information.

Fake news, often sensationalised, tends to be more memorable, leading people to assign greater significance to content that triggers strong emotional reactions, irrespective of its accuracy. This cognitive bias can be likened to recalling a vivid movie scene; even if it’s fictional, the vividness makes it more accessible and memorable. Similarly, emotionally charged fake news becomes ingrained in our minds, influencing opinions and contributing to the challenge of discerning fact from fiction in today’s information landscape.

Anchoring Bias

Anchoring bias is a cognitive bias that happens when people focus too strongly on the first piece of information they receive (the ‘anchor’) while making decisions or developing judgements. It significantly shapes our perceptions, as individuals rely heavily on this first piece of information encountered when forming subsequent opinions. If the initial exposure involves misinformation, it acts as a cognitive anchor, influencing how individuals interpret subsequent data. This anchoring effect can be likened to setting a reference point for decision-making.

For instance, if a person initially encounters false information about a topic, it becomes a reference point, skewing their understanding of subsequent, accurate information. This cognitive phenomenon sheds light on creating resilient mental frameworks that resist correction, as people unconsciously anchor their beliefs to the first information encountered. Recognising and mitigating the impact of anchoring bias is crucial in fostering more accurate and open-minded perspectives.

The pervasive impact of cognitive biases, such as the confirmation bias, the availability heuristic and the anchoring bias, emphasises the convoluted challenges of navigating an environment flooded with falsified information. These cognitive biases in perceiving fake news tend to make us more vulnerable and completely alter how we comprehend things around us.

Examples from real life effectively demonstrate how these biases affect how the public recognises matters. The ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory is a notable real-world illustration of confirmation bias influencing people’s perceptions through false news. False allegations that a pizzeria in Washington, DC, was the hub for a child trafficking conspiracy involving prominent political people went viral in 2016. People with misgivings or unfavourable opinions about the individuals involved were more inclined to believe and share this fabricated information. In another example, the effectiveness of the availability heuristic showed up in the massive spread of false information about remedies and contagion spread during the Covid pandemic. Dramatic claims attracted more attention.

Moreover, anchoring bias can be particularly evident in political debate, as people attach their opinions to a single, perhaps false story. The insidious nature of these biases necessitates a concerted focus on media literacy, critical thinking, and robust fact-checking measures to counter their effects. Addressing the repercussions of misinformation requires cultivating an informed and discerning public, which is essential for fostering a resilient and accurate understanding of the world.

To safeguard ourselves from falling prey to fake news and making decisions based on it, it is necessary to verify sources and check facts, especially forwarded messages on WhatsApp, be sceptical of viral content, avoid impulsive sharing and be more mindful of these biases. A simple question like, “Why do I find this content on social media so convincing?” can go a long to shield you from a piece of fake news.

This article has been authored by Prof. Moulika Mandal, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University, and Mannat Mehra, Undergraduate Student, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://telanganatoday.com/opinion-navigating-web-of-misinformation )