We hear some of you are worried about getting fooled by fake news.
That’s perfectly understandable. This is also a concern among adults, including the people you look up to the most.
A big part of the reason is the way our brains work. We are wired to keep believing the things we already believe in. We are constantly justifying our beliefs, coming up with arguments in their favor and blocking or ignoring facts that run counter to those.
Psychologists call this behavior “confirmation bias.”
The APA Dictionary of Psychology describes it as “the tendency to gather evidence that confirms preexisting expectations, typically by emphasizing or pursuing supporting evidence while dismissing or failing to seek contradictory evidence.”
Simply put, people see what they want to see. This is why we like to read about, watch or listen to things that affirm and strengthen our beliefs, even if our beliefs may, in fact, be false.
This is also why we are more likely to gloss over stories and news we don’t necessarily like or believe in, even if these may turn out to be true.
The lure—and danger—of fake news is that there’s always someone out there who wants to believe it.
Some people repost fake news that humans have not actually landed on the moon, despite all the evidence to the contrary. There are even people who believe that the earth is flat!
There are still many people who don’t believe that climate change is caused by human activity, despite all the evidence and science that confirm that fact. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in addition to many scientists around the world, have concluded that climate change is real, and that human activities are its main cause.
The concentration of greenhouse gases in our planet’s atmosphere has been increasing since the Industrial Revolution. The average global temperature is rising with it.
Carbon dioxide, which accounts for approximately two-thirds of greenhouse gases, is a product of burning fossil fuels.
Our oceans are getting warmer, our ice sheets are shrinking, our sea levels are rising, yet there are still people who choose to turn a blind eye to climate change.
The people who don’t believe in climate change or that humans landed on the moon are more likely to believe and share fake news items that support these beliefs. And the more they read and share fake news, the stronger they hold on to these mistaken beliefs.
The consequences can be very bad. People who don’t know any better and read these posts might believe them. More people might refuse to change their habits that harm the environment.
Governments could fail to create policies and laws that protect the Earth, to the detriment of future generations—including yours.
What can we do about this?
Now that we know that our brains can fool us, you can be more careful about how you take in news that you hear and read about.
As scientists and researchers, we have learned how to sift through a lot of information and judge if they are based on sound reasoning and evidence. We don’t take anything at face value.
Even for experts like us, this takes a lot of time and effort. We have to read many papers and studies on the topic, listen carefully to what experts in the field have to say, and interpret what we read based on our own understanding. Before any scientific journal decides to publish a paper we wrote, the paper must first undergo peer review, a lengthy process by which other scientists closely read and critique it.
We seek to understand not only the “what,” but also the “how” and the “why.”
We ask: How do we know what we know? What are the things we understand quite well, and what are those that we still need to study further?
You can start doing this as well.
Next time you encounter a post about a topic you care about, resist the temptation to share it automatically. Be curious to learn more. Take the time to read more widely about the issue.
Ask questions and do not simply believe everything you read. Be alert even to your own thoughts. You will find that just as there are many things that we do know with confidence, there are many more things we are less sure about or that we don’t understand fully yet.
Quest for understanding
You will discover that you can be part of this quest for understanding. In fact, by reading and asking questions, you already are!
You can then tell others about what you’ve learned, what you believe and why, in your own words, and how your beliefs have changed, after learning about something more deeply. By finding your voice, you will lead others to do the same.
In this age of fake news, where facts are often rendered invisible, it becomes a moral responsibility to stand guard over the truth, over what is just, and over what is truly important.
We have no doubt you can shine a light on what our country and the world needs to pay attention to. Those who came before you will be cheering you on, and those who will come later will forever be grateful.
Dr. Reina Reyes teaches Physics at University of the Philippines Diliman, and shares her love of science and knowledge on “Science Says” on Knowledge Channel, “Radyo Turo Guro” on DZRJ, @DrReinaReyes on YouTube . Dr. Jacklyn A. Cleofas teaches Ethics at Ateneo de Manila University.
This article originally appeared in #YOUTHInk, a local magazine created by Google and Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development (Canvas) as a tool to end misinformation through media literacy education. Visit looking-for-juan.myshopify.com/collections/books/products/youthink-fight-fake-news-pre-selling to get a copy. For every copy sold, Canvas will donate two to children from the poor and disadvantaged communities through the One Million Books for One Million Filipino Children Campaign.
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