Pia Lamberty, Katharina Nocun
How Conspiracy Theories Influence our Thinking
Conspiracy theories and fake facts are spreading like wildfire on the internet, and have long ceased to be a fringe phenomenon. According to the factcheckers at the Washington Post, Donald Trump alone has made over 5,000 false assertions. Trump has repeatedly claimed that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. And by the time of the 2016 US election campaign, over 50 per cent of voters believed that Obama had been born in Kenya.
Since that election (if not before) conspiracy theories and fake news have been a hot topic – and in future they may increasingly come to influence important decisions and opinions across the world. Conspiracy theories are to be found in many sections of society, and their circulation is by no means confined to less-educated groups.
To understand why conspiracy theories take hold in this way, it is important to understand the mechanisms behind them. The authors explain how the psychological phenomena which lead people to believe in conspiracy theories can also influence all of us in the decisions we make every day. They illustrate the psychological foundations of a belief in conspiracy theories, and also explain how carefully targeted conspiracy theories can be used to trigger political smear campaigns. They shine a light on dubious online platforms and new business models within the scene, and describe the role played by the internet and social networks in this process.
Fake Facts powerfully illustrates how vulnerable we all are to conspiracy theories. But the authors also offer advice on how to recognise fake facts and protect ourselves from charlatans.
Only when we understand why people are drawn to conspiracy theories can we protect ourselves against them, and do something meaningful to stop them spreading.