Why do we believe fake news?

This article is part of Fake news

Fake news, advertisement scams on social media, … You might think you would never fall for them. But the creators of fake news know how to make their messages seem convincing. They use a number of famous propaganda techniques to achieve their purpose. And anyone can fall victim to their trickery!

Fake news plays with emotions

In uncertain or confusing times we become more susceptible to fake news. Take for example the start of the coronavirus pandemic: we are scared because we don’t know what’s going to happen and we’re lonely because we can’t see friends and family, so our rational thinking takes a back seat.

Creators of fake news cleverly (ab)use that state of mind. They try to elicit or amplify certain feelings in order to hook their own message onto it. For example, opponents of the coronavirus vaccine try to harness the doubts of those who are scared to get vaccinated by saying the vaccine is dangerous. Anger, hope and disappointment are especially fertile breeding grounds for fake news. 

Fake news offers solutions

When we are worried or have lots of questions, we want answers and solutions. Fake news happily offers us those solutions - more often than not to earn money from them. If the corona crisis makes you yearn for the freedom to go wherever you want, you’ll be more keen to believe that there’s suddenly a medicine available. Or you might be willing to pay for all sorts of snake oil in the belief that it will increase your resistance against the virus. In that sense, the creators of fake news offer people just the thing they are craving.

Fake news simplifies matters

When there’s something we don’t understand, we want an explanation. Preferably a simple and obvious one, so we don’t have to do any more thinking. That’s why fake news likes to present reality as very simple. So simple, in fact, that it all seems perfectly logical and we have no reason to doubt it.

For example, Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus first broke loose, also happened to be one of the first places where a 5G network was installed. The (incorrect) assumption that corona is caused by the supposedly harmful radiation of the 5G masts was an easy step. 

Fake news offers you a scapegoat

Just as much as we like answers, solutions and explanations, we also like to be able to blame someone when things go wrong. That’s another common feature of fake news: political or religious leaders who look for a scapegoat in order to amplify their own ideas. That way, they facilitate polarisation and win over people by painting an us-versus-them picture.

For example, far-right politicians claim that the coronavirus can be blamed on immigrants who enter our country unchecked. A controversial imam even claimed that the coronavirus is a punishment from God for the way China abuses Muslim minorities. 

Published on 19 October 2023