2012 was a banner year for campaigns of misinformation, which is striking as many say we are living in the Age of Information. How can people lie so boldly when there are so many ways to check the facts? Why do so many refuse to believe the truth regardless of the science and evidence presented?
Whether it be political, health-related, science-related (global warming) or a disaster, we have experienced lies that would not quit no matter how often refuted or proven untrue. There are reasons why people lie from narcissism, self-delusion, egomania, trying to spare others from the “hurt” of the truth, etc. Politicians are prone to lying says Jim Taylor, Ph.D. in “Six Reasons Why Politicians Believe They Can Lie,” (Psychology Today, September 24, 2012), because, “Ultimately, politicians lie because … the cost/benefit ratio for lying is in their favor. Politicians run this calculation when they create or shift a damaging narrative, attack an opponent, or respond to indefensible claims against them. So politicians lie when they believe that dishonesty is the best policy for getting elected.”
In awarding Mitt Romney the award for the “2012 Lie of the Year,” Politifact pointed out in this case, the lie told about Jeep moving jobs to China, may have backfired on Romney. Politifact said, “A flood of negative press coverage rained down on the Romney campaign, and he failed to turn the tide in Ohio, the most important state in the presidential election.” The organization also points out how even though Jeep refuted the lie, the lie continued to pick up steam by being turned into a TV ad, which increased the outcry. The more the pushback, however, the more Romney’s supporters held fast to the lie as it reinforced their world view.
Understanding how the mind works can be helpful in why lying works more often than not, even with the ability to easily check facts. In “Diss Information: Is There a Way to Stop Popular Falsehoods from Morphing into ‘Facts’?” by Carrie Arnold (Scientific American, October 4, 2012), she says, “Psychologists call this reaction belief perseverance: maintaining your original opinions in the face of overwhelming data that contradicts your beliefs.” Another form of this is known as confirmation bias, where people tend to screen out information that conflicts with their beliefs and believe information that is consistent with their beliefs. Says Arnold, “Accepting a statement also requires less cognitive effort than rejecting it. Misinformation is a human problem, not a liberal or conservative one.”
Given the decline in critical thinking coupled with the inundation of data, it is easy to see how discerning the truth is difficult for some. Throw in the speed at which “news” travels and we can see how minds can be made up before the real facts are known. If information is currency, let’s hope that people decide in 2013 to try to be more open-minded, not form opinions until the facts are known and embrace that in a fast-paced world, new information is continually developed that might require a different mindset. Here’s to all of us focusing on building our critical thinking skills so we can be better citizens and community members.