The Age Of Misinformation

Political scientists often study the characteristics and influence of those they dub “high information voters.” Although that cohort is relatively small, it accounts for a significant amount–probably a majority–of America’s political discourse.

Research has suggested that these more informed voters, who follow politics closely, are just as likely–perhaps even more likely– to exhibit confirmation bias as are Americans less invested in the daily political news. But their ability to spread both information and misinformation is far greater than it was before the Internet and the ubiquity of social media.

As Max Fisher recently wrote in a column for the New York Times, 

There’s a decent chance you’ve had at least one of these rumors, all false, relayed to you as fact recently: that President Biden plans to force Americans to eat less meat; that Virginia is eliminating advanced math in schools to advance racial equality; and that border officials are mass-purchasing copies of Vice President Kamala Harris’s book to hand out to refugee children.

All were amplified by partisan actors. But you’re just as likely, if not more so, to have heard it relayed from someone you know. And you may have noticed that these cycles of falsehood-fueled outrage keep recurring.

Fisher attributes this phenomenon to a number of factors, but especially to an aspect of identity politics; we live in an age where political identity has become central to the self-image held by many Americans.

Fisher cites research attributing the prevalence of misinformation to three main elements of our time. Perhaps the most important of the three is a social environment in which individuals feel the need for what he terms “in-grouping,” and I would call tribalism — identification with like-minded others  as a source of strength and (especially) superiority. As he says,

In times of perceived conflict or social change, we seek security in groups. And that makes us eager to consume information, true or not, that lets us see the world as a conflict putting our righteous ingroup against a nefarious outgroup.

 American political polarization promotes the sharing of disinformation. The hostility between Red and Blue America feeds a pervasive distrust, and when people are distrustful, they become much more prone to engage in and accept rumor and falsehood. Distrust also encourages people to see the world as “us versus them”– and that’s a world in which we are much more apt to believe information that bolsters “us” and denigrates “them.” We know that  individuals with more polarized views are more likely to believe falsehoods.

And of course, the emergence of high-profile political figures who prey on these tribal instincts exacerbates the situation.

Then there is the third factor — a shift to social media, which is a powerful outlet for composers of disinformation, a pervasive vector for misinformation itself and a multiplier of the other risk factors.

“Media has changed, the environment has changed, and that has a potentially big impact on our natural behavior,” said William J. Brady, a Yale University social psychologist.

“When you post things, you’re highly aware of the feedback that you get, the social feedback in terms of likes and shares,” Dr. Brady said. So when misinformation appeals to social impulses more than the truth does, it gets more attention online, which means people feel rewarded and encouraged for spreading it.

It isn’t surprising that people who get positive feedback when they post inflammatory or false statements are more likely to do so again–and again. In one particularly troubling analysis, researchers found that when a fact-check revealed that information in a post was wrong, the response of partisans wasn’t to revise their thinking or get upset with the purveyor of the lie.

Instead, it was to attack the fact checkers.

“The problem is that when we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone,” the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci wrote in a much-circulated MIT Technology Review article. “It’s like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium. Online, we’re connected with our communities, and we seek approval from our like-minded peers. We bond with our team by yelling at the fans of the other one.”

In an ecosystem where that sense of identity conflict is all-consuming, she wrote, “belonging is stronger than facts.”

We’re in a world of hurt…..


  1. “high information voters.” ??? If they are repeating moronic lies promoted on Fox do we really call them HIGH information voters? Or Morons? Repeating ridiculous lies does not seem like a hallmark of high information people.

  2. Single source voters maybe a better term for them. I have otherwise rational friends who will only listen to a single source, they come from both sides of the aisle. It is troubling to say the least.

  3. The age of misinformation?

    How about the age of lies! And yes, social media has promoted the lie, and it bears and much of the responsibility concerning that trend.

    I think we mentioned before about how we carry a window to the world in our pocket. Something that was inconceivable 30 years ago for the most part. And something that has been on steroids and in the gym since 2008.

    Every lunatic on every side with some sort of hateful Epiphany is able to post some ignorant diatribe and promote it as fact. Eating babies? Of course! The tea party was for freedom of taxes? LOL, right! Vaccines rewriting a person’s genetic code to turn them into communists? Yep! Trump won the election? Sure! And of course all of the projecting the publicly goes on with politicians and their associates admitting guilt by projecting that very guilt on their competition. If you really want to know what an individual has been up to, just listen to what they say about their competition, deflection by projection.

    Just click on the old Google machine and take a stroll down insanity Lane, anyone with a microphone and Internet access can say anything they want and knowingly promote lies and innuendo with impunity! There really needs to be accountability.

    Let’s face it, humanity has become desperately lazy and really wishes for someone else to do its thinking for it. After all it’s much easier to ball up your fist and yell at your phone, computer screen, television, or whatever, than it is to actually research truth. Lies flow much quicker than truth, but why is that? Is because there are more liars than truth tellers! Just another sign of the moral decay of society!

    This flows very well with yesterday’s thread, if you are a lamb, which Wolf would you vote with concerning choices for dinner? Or, would you switch it up and vote for the lion or the tiger instead? It amazed me when so many in the GOP were talking about how wonderful Vladimir Putin was, and then turn around and voted for Trump, LOL, John Gresham couldn’t have made that up. People are misled because they want to be misled, or they want to be led by liars it can give them a reality they desire, untruthful as it is!

    But then, when does the lie actually become truth? When does the alternate reality become the norm? When do alternate facts become the principle of certainty?

    Let’s face it, we’ve been bombarded by lies all of our lives, through government, and our families for that matter. One of the earliest lies I can recall, is that Santa Claus was gonna bring presents, LOL! Now, in truth, my parents never taught us about Santa Claus, because they refused to promote that lie to us. But my cousins would sit with their noses pressed against the window looking in the sky for Rudolph’s red nose blinking. And, when they were old enough to actually know different, they were so afraid of not getting anything for Christmas, they swore to God that Santa Claus was still real! Not a very good start to promoting truth and honesty wouldn’t you say?

    So what’s the difference between a white man flying around on a sled pulled by reindeer, or the belief that there is a group of politicians that eat babies and worship Satan in the basement of pizza parlors? When the mind has been conditioned to the lie, truth is the outlier so to speak.

    “You must not steal, you must not deceive, and you must not deal falsely with one another.” (Leviticus 19:11)

    “Their throat is an opened grave, they have used deceit with their tongues.” “Poison of asps is behind their lips.” (Romans 3:13)

    Christ himself states; ” Offspring of vipers, how can YOU speak good things, when YOU are wicked? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)

    But the tongue, not one of mankind can get it tamed. An unruly injurious thing, it is full of death-dealing poison. (James 3:8)

    The power of the lie has been known for a long time, and, men have a penchant for embracing it!

  4. When I did my informal study, it began local and it wasn’t done on social media. It was done at the level of our free press. Once again, social media is a platform for sharing whatever you want. What interesting is Facebook has grown so large, it’s now an ecosystem for sharing with the world. I have friends from all over the globe. Moreso, on Twitter.

    What’s funny is our politicians want to regulate Facebook and Twitter so they don’t share “misinformation.” Why?

    Or, let me ask a different question, “Why aren’t they concerned with the misinformation by the free press.”

    Or, maybe the question is, “What is misinformation?”

    Or, what I learned during my study of the media leads to a bigger question, “What is the truth?”

    The last question cuts through all the bullshit out there right now. There are actual laws on the books stating that politicians, as a course of what they perform for the public, are entitled to lie. In other words, they can’t be held liable for misleading the public. Therefore, if a politician’s lips are moving, there is a good chance they are lying to you.

    Here’s another truth I learned, the media today isn’t the free press our constitutional Founders envisioned when they gave them enormous powers. I can recount countless stories told to me by senior journalists who wanted to change the world out of college only to arrive at their first job and be told, “Kid, I appreciate your vigor, but this is the real world, our newspaper is a business, so if we don’t make money, you don’t have a job.”

    Come to find out, this is one of the “five filters” that Noam Chomsky discusses when presenting his propaganda model for the media. He did this in the 80s. Being critical of the media made him real popular with the media.

    If you really study the case of Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and their model for journalism and truth-seeking, you’ll see an incredible operation with journalists, encryption, lawyers, etc.

    What did Julian find out?

    “All wars are started with lies. If we wanted peace, we need to seek the truth.”

    So, he sought the truth and held the powerful accountable with the help of whistleblowers. Nils Melzer, the United Nations Special Rappatouer on Torture reviewed Julian’s case and wrote a book in German about it. An English version is coming soon. He wrote:

    “Since (2010), there has been a relentless and unrestrained campaign of public mobbing, intimidation, and defamation against Mr. Assange, not only in the United States, but also in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and, more recently, Ecuador.”

    I can attest in my own community that truth-seekers are not welcome in a world where dishonesty and misinformation rule the day.

    We have been force-fed (consumed) mountains of misinformation starting at a very early period. Einstein even posited in 1949 that the oligarchs control all the major institutions including the press and both political parties so that an individual could not discern for him or herself what is in his own self-interest.

    So, who shall be the arbiters of “misinformation” in this world?

    My theoretical question was can you be a servant leader and be a good politician when I started my research project. I can say today, with resounding resolve, that no you can’t. You can’t even be a successful journalist as our Founders wanted because as Nils pointed out, the powerful will destroy you.

  5. Don’t spread “misinformation” but don’t use Google, Facebook, Twitter or other social media which bring the issues to our attention to know what and where to research further for the truth? Isn’t the only alternative to close our eyes and ears to all forms and sources of information; shut down our thinking and caring about what is information and what is misinformation believing it doesn’t concern us?

    Be it lies or truth; the Internet and the world will move on with or without our attention or input and like those “good Germans” in Europe we can claim we knew nothing about it…whatever happens has nothing to do with us till it happens to us. And those “fact checkers” should be checked or the Steve Bannons and Karl Roves of the Internet will win.

  6. “identification with like-minded others as a source of strength and (especially) superiority”. We spoke at some length yesterday with my sister, her husband and their Gen Z daughter. I think there’s a less animalistic and instinctive reason to ID with LM others…and that is the general sense of discomfort in not doing so. In other words we simply don’t feel comfortable mixing it up with even one Trumper in a social situation.

    For me, the reason isn’t just that I find their world-view and beliefs revolting, it’s because I’m afraid of what my reaction will be when they say some preposterous garbage out loud to me or even within my hearing range (which is short, thankfully). The reason is partly my nature, which tends toward outspokenness, but also because I have identified with the loosely defined and organized group of Americans called “resisters”. Similarly, many leaders and writers in the Black Lives Matter movement have challenged their white brothers and sisters to become “allies” to help actively expose racist behaviors and policies and lean forward into them.

    Both these terms require the delicate skills of constructive confrontation, made even more delicate and difficult if the person on the other end is family, friend, neighbor or co-worker. I’ve had a dozen or so of these conversations and have gotten every reaction in the spectrum ranging from angry defiance to sheepish apology. I’ve lost friends and become estranged from family members. I’m not proud of this, in fact, I feel awful about it…but like they say: “it is what it is”.

    Back to the topic of misinformation. So here’s the thing. I have ZERO tolerance for any position that supports The Big Lie in any shape, form or nuance. And I’ve even found that people who identify as “moderate Republicans” sometimes sympathize with the notion that the election process needs to be “cleaned up” and cheer on the state legislatures who are enacting laws with one objective: to lower the voter turnout rate.

    So, if that’s called tribalism sign me up. The time for polite deference and tongue-biting are over. The “if you can keep it” phase of The Republic is well under way. Which side are you on?

  7. Politics is not governance. Politics is a performance art that presents the practitioner in a favorable light to certain segments of the population and forms a platform from which to convey the practitioner’s intentions in how to govern.

    Governance is the work involved once in government in representing constituents in formulating or executing or adjudicating laws.

    Today we have politicians who have no idea how to govern but get elected based solely on politics. Of course, we have those effective in governance as well.

    While it used to be that nobody got to govern without demonstrating effective ability and willingness to do so, today there are pure politicians because their stage act is so effectively and widely disseminated on entertainment and social media. Those people are unaffordable by the republic but nevertheless part of what democracy has devolved into in the age of pervasive media.

  8. Wise words, Pete, wise words! The current administration of democracy, Rule of Law and supporting the Constitution has but a slim lead over the Party of Misinformation and the infighting is brutal with the survival of this nation in the balance.

  9. It is amazing to me The Trumper’s are posting on Facebook – How The Trumpet was the best president since Reagan. The Trump Cult is fully activated in accusing Biden and the Democrats of bringing godless Communism to America. Oh yeah the election was stolen from The Trumpet.

    These Trumper’s have no facts just willful ignorance. The majority of the GOP especially the leadership is locked into the same willful ignorance. These elected officials know their base and the base is totally intolerant of the fact that The Trumpet lost.

  10. Georgia is now considering joining Arizona in another “audit” of the vote count. Millions of tax dollars wasted which could be put to better use for state residents. The original results followed by THREE RECOUNTS in Georgia with the same results hasn’t registered on the Republican mindset. With FORTY-SEVEN states having voter suppression bills awaiting hearings in their Legislatures; what is it going to take to stop their rampant misinformation based on the ego of one mentally unstable man? What hold does Trump have on the Republican Representatives and Senators who have been sitting in Congress for years as normal opposing political officials who had never before been intended victims of a deadly insurrection led by their own leader? He left the Republican party in 1999 to return in 2009 when President Obama took office. There is a lesson of his lack of loyalty in that action alone; no matter how loyal they are to him today, he will remove them from power at a whim if reinstated to the presidency. They have even watched him fire and force out their own party members on their personal cable channel, Fox News. Trump is gaining a stronger foothold daily and the promised legal indictments of him for past crimes and treasonous actions as president have never materialized. WERE ALL OF THOSE NEWS RELEASES MISINFORMATION?

  11. JOHN; I have never seen that movie so don’t understand your reference to me or your “lol”. Don’t know which of my 2 posts you are referring to but do know the why and wherefore your John Grisham reference came from. Read his book “The Chamber” for those “Kill The Messenger” imagined “veiled threats”.

  12. Truth can be difficult to digest, especially when it does not flatter, or feed one’s personal, or political, agenda. My mother-in-law used to say that she never lied, “I just change the truth.” I swear, she never took a seminar with Borman.

  13. JoAnn,
    If you get a chance to see the movie “pride and prejudice” Lawrence Olivier played an antagonistic character to the star of the movie whose name was elizabeth. His wealthy aunt was talking to Elizabeth and told her in conversation, wise words Elizabeth wise words! One of the best scenes in the movie. I love movies from the 30s and 40s.

  14. Demagoguery and media associated with demagoguery have been around since the rise of large scale agricultural societies. The religious justification one finds for monarchs and emperors in such societies can certainly be seen as one of the first forms of misinformation and disinformation.

  15. I always liked the Swift quote: “Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it…”, but that is only part of it.

    I recently read a review of a book (I don’t have the details at the moment) wherein the author posited that people have one side that views themselves as part of a greater community (social politics) and the world (climate change), and another side that looks inward and only sees themselves, which the author suggests is like the ideal Ayn Randian hero.

    She also suggested that Neoliberalism became prominent in the 1980s and fed this view. These “exceptionalists” find it harder to accept contradictory facts than the outward looking people, who are used to looking at many pieces of the whole. This isn’t to say that there aren’t those on the extreme left who share a strong confirmation bias, just that society and national politics have been pushing the “exceptionalist ” view. Do we call it confirmation bias when we interact with like minded people who DON’T believe that Donald Trump won the election?

    I also read a study that suggested that confronting people with opposing facts rarely overturns lies, but one-on-one discussions can be effective. Sadly, social media does not encourage this kind of interaction.

    It is even worse – I wanted to write to a give my opinion to an evening newscaster on MSNBC. My goal was to have it read by a staffer and maybe get to the person I was addressing. No such luck, I can Tweet or post a comment to a Facebook page, in both cases just starting a flame war. I kept my opinion to myself, so the newscaster, and her staff, never read my well-reasoned views. The style of media does tend to shape how things get discussed (I have no idea how many “likes” I have on Facebook, or were there when I had my blog — and frankly, I don’t care).

  16. ML, I’ve never heard a Trumper say that Trump was the best President SINCE Reagan. I’ve heard 100% of them say Trump was a better President than Reagan.

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