In the years following the 2016 election, we’ve all slowly become aware of how widespread misinformation is, as well as the extent to which Big Tech has largely turned a blind eye to it. What we don’t really talk about, however, is how susceptible many of us are to fake news — and how much our preconceived notions of the world play into our willingness to buy into bullshit. An Irish study published in the journal Psychological Science, however, offers a terrifying glimpse at how easily we can be manipulated, and how difficult it truly is for many of us to discern between fact and fiction.
Led by Gillian Murphy, a lecturer at the School of Applied Psychology at the University College County Cork, the study took place one week before the 2018 initiative to repeal the Eighth Amendment, which made abortion totally illegal except in cases where the pregnancy posed a significant risk to the mother’s life. The researchers asked more than 3,000 eligible voters how they planned to vote in the referendum, then presented them with six news stories about the abortion referendum, two of which were fabricated and featured inflammatory behavior from partisans on both sides of the issue. The subjects were then asked whether they’d heard the stories before, and if so, if they had any memories about them. The goal was not just to determine how susceptible the subjects were to the lure of “fake news,” but also whether certain stories were more likely to resonate with them according to their specific political views — regardless of whether the story was true or not.
“People will act on their fake memories, and it is often hard to convince them that fake news is fake,” co-author Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine said in a press release.
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