How to identify fakes and why do we keep falling for fake information? 3 reasons why we fall for it again and again.
When I present this thesis of my book #FAKE, I often receive bitter rebuttal. “I don’t fall for fakes,” they say. “It can’t happen to ME, I’m a professional.” Yet it is this very thought that makes one susceptible to fakes. Last year, I had 2 (!) posts in my Facebook feed from people with a doctorate or even a post-doctorate – both digital consultants who fell for Facebook fake sweepstakes. I myself ordered dumbbells from a Fake Shop from China, a good colleague lost his Facebook accounts due to a Fake App. We all have one thing in common: we have an above-average affinity for media and work in precisely this industry. And yet, the fake has not spared us.
I’m convinced of it – no one is safe from the fakes on the web. In one form or another, we are all victims.
But why are we so susceptible to fakes? There are three main reasons:
1) We are superficial
Honestly, who hasn’t shared an article without reading more than the headline? According to studies, this happens very often anyway – 59% of all links posted on Twitter don’t even seem to have been clicked on by the sender himself.
This is a huge problem on the web. We take too little time, react too quickly, impulsively and emotionally, and question far too little. We share the headline if it confirms our suspicions. We order the great special offer, even if the store should actually seem suspicious to us…
2) We are media incompetent
Media incompetent – it’s always the others. If we belong to the younger generation, we think the older generation is too stupid to use the Internet. And if we’re older, we like to smile at young people or call for more media literacy lessons for children.
But let’s be honest: When it comes to (digital) media, we’re all newcomers. Hardly anyone out there has enjoyed a solid education in this area. We’ve just acquired our digital skills, learning by doing. Which is perfectly okay. The problem is that this creates huge gaps that we know nothing about. The keyword here is “unconscious incompetence.
Studies show that young users are often no longer able to distinguish between editorial content and advertising (an effect that we older marketing people have of course brought about consciously and deliberately over 20 years). And when it comes to influencers, there is often a frightening lack of trust.
But are the older ones “better?” Who’s clicking on all those Viagra emails? Who pays the legal fees for the various princes from Nigeria so that the millions in inheritance can soon be transferred? Who accepts friendship requests from scantily clad ladies with strange names on Facebook? Probably not teenagers…
Old and young like to play ball with each other. But the fact is that we could all do with a good dose of media literacy.
Media literacy is neither something you acquire automatically as you gain more experience in life, nor is it something you are born with. It can only be acquired through intensive study and sound training.
3) We are psychologically predestined
Our brain, as fascinating and powerful as it is, is prone to a whole series of false conclusions. I describe such so-called “biases” in detail in the book. Here I pick out just one: the “confirmation bias”. We always see, believe and interpret things in such a way that they confirm us in our expectation and our existing opinion.
This factor plays a big role in the spread of Fake News. An article can be full of logical fallacies, typos, and outright lies – if we find just a few statements that confirm our opinion, we are more likely to believe the entire article is true. We also rate information that fits our expectation as more important, relevant, and true than information that would contradict us. Again: ideal breeding ground for fakes.
So can we prevent ourselves from falling for fakes? Can we prevent it? Yes, absolutely. But that requires us to work on ourselves. We have to realize that we are NOT immune to fakes, no matter how smart, media-savvy or educated we are. This does not make us smarter per se than the scammers, rip-off artists and fakers. Precisely because they are not targeting a lack of intelligence, but our superficiality, media incompetence and psychological biases.
A good way to help fakes is the “30-second rule.” When I make a decision online, whether it’s ordering from a store I don’t know, passing along a message, sharing a post, or commenting angrily on a post – wait 30 seconds and only then act (or not).
A lot can happen in those 30 seconds: an emotion cools, questioning sets in, a quick Google search is possible. How many hurtful comments wouldn’t be written, how many euros wouldn’t be sunk in fake stores, and how much nonsense wouldn’t be spread around the web if we took 30 seconds to “come down” before clicking.
As long as the social networks and other tech giants don’t include a 30-second waiting period before important actions, it’s up to us – do we take half a minute to make better decisions? I argue for a resounding – YES.