Communication and Rhetoric

Could psychology be the key to getting rid of fake news?


fake news blog post 2
Graphic by Hannah Onder

We live in the day and age where news is pumped out so fast by so many different sources with so many different viewpoints; it can be hard to make sense of what’s true and what’s fake. Fake news is the spread of false information heighten by social media that that’s used to influence different agendas. The issue has only gotten worse with the increase of politics in social media. All the controversy surrounding the 2016 election is still going strong well into the current presidency and tensions in the country are at an all-time high, as people continue to use fake news for their benefits.


Could psychology, the science of why humans behave they the way they do, be the key to helping stop the spread and negative effects of fake news? In Karen Douglas, Chee Siang Ang, and Farzin Deravi’s Reclaiming the Truth,” an academic article published by the Psychologist in June 2017, they discuss the current issues of fake news and its believers, the impact of fake news and why it’s a problem now, and possible solutions for the future.

The information has merit because it’s a collaboration between Douglas a professor of social psychology, Ang a senior lecturer in multimedia and digital systems, and Deravi a reader of information engineering. It’s also written for an academic audience since it was published in a scholarly journal.

Fake news and the people who believe it

The article relates fake news to conspiracy theories since they both use fake material to manipulate people. It then references psychological research that says that, if people believe one conspiracy theory, they’re more likely to believe multiple ones that can even be contradictory. They also have studies that show people’s degree of belief in conspiracy theories are determined on a variety of personal and social factors such as powerlessness, authoritarianism, uncertainty, political cynicism, and distrust. Conspiracy theories also add interest to the everyday authority in people’s lives. Psychologists are still researching why people feel the need to spread fake news. So far, they’ve had the theories that people pass on conspiracies for their personal needs: to make sense of an event, spread values and prejudice, or create distrust in other social groups.

Why fake news is a problem

Originally, conspiracy theories were relatively harmless and believed to have little impact, if they were believed. However, with data revealing that around half the population believes in at least one conspiracy theory and the introduction of social media allowing the fast-paced spread of these theories, psychologist have begun to consider the negative impacts. Conspiracy theories, for example, can be used to justify radical political views, manipulate people into not voting, reduce the eco-friendly behavior, create antivaccination attitudes, decrease the willingness to work somewhere, and be a catalyst for extreme action.

Social media has made the fake news stronger because it allows stories to be more widespread and it takes away the news regulators. Social media takes away people’s accountability for communication to be accurate. With journalists and editors delivering news, they had the responsibility to their organizations’ reputation to be reliable and objective. Social media can also be dangerous, because of its echo chambers. The chambers can cause liked minded people to polarize a point to the extreme due to the lack of differing opinion. Currently, the only combat against fake news is user reports and artificial intelligence so a lot can slip through the lines.

Possible solutions to fake news

The solution in fighting fake news may actually be its catalyst, social media. Of course, educating people to think analytically and look at counter-arguments could decrease the negative impacts of fake news; however, teaching these things will take time and detailed tests on a large scale to be effective. Therefore, a quicker option would be to combine the technology already in place with people power to decrease fake news. For example, giving people the opportunity to flag suspicious content that would amplify the signal to the newsfeed algorism, or have the machines detect patterns of people posting misinformation and alerting the material to be examined closer by administrators. A critical element though is to get people to quit sharing fake news around; the article suggests having people trained through online games to develop a sense for fake news though this would also take time. Although developing all these systems could even have the chance of suffocating information, so a careful balance would need to be struck.

Conspiracy theories brought to social media have become known as the phenomenon of fake news. What was once harmless theories, have now become dangerous influencers that can impact current events like the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. It’s now become important to understand what fake news is and why people follow it, how it’s become harmful, and how to stop it. It’s become a shared interest between psychologists and journalist.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s