In a family short period of time, the term “fake news” has worked its way into the public consciousness. And whatever you might think about the man who popularised the term, there’s no escaping the fact that a lot of news is fake.
This isn’t to say that we’re being fed outright lies (although who can say for sure), but that the news media is incentivised to present the world to us in the most emotive, divisive, and incendiary terms possible. The more strongly are emotions are triggered, whether they be sympathy, disgust or preferably anger, the more likely we are to share the article or video, brining them more pf hose sweet, sweet, advertising bucks.
But this is bad news for us. The more common this becomes, the less closely our view of the world matches up with reality. We start to believe that everybody is out to get us, or that violence and danger is everywhere, or that our political opponents are pure evil.
None of this is true. In fact, by pretty much any measure you care to choose, the world is a happier, safer, kinder and fairer place than sit has been at any point in human history. It’s the fact that we’re fed such a steady diet of bad news, while being positively starved of good news, that we feel as if everything is terrible. Here’s a quote for the video above on the subject?
Unfortunately we remember some things much more easily than others, so this “availability heuristic” can lead us to make really bad assessments of risk.
Things that are more commonly and vividly shown in the media, like a violent murder, will be a lot easier to remember rehab things that are far more common in real life but aren’t as dramatic, like a cancer patient dying peacefully at home.
So what can we do about it? Sadly, not much. The news has been fearing into this feature of human psychology for a long time, and probably isn’t about to stop any time soon. But we can go some way to protecting our sanity simply by being aware of the way our minds work. Simply by recognising that our brains are more likely to hold onto and believe bad news, we become a little more suspicious of the most pessimistic voices in our heads. We can remind ourselves that the information we see on our phones is just a tiny, negatively biased sliver of what’s actually going on in the world. And maybe we can remember to watch a little less bad news.