Misinformation today prevents itself in an abundance of forms, in a lot of ways it controls the political discourse, conspiracy theories, and even just small, misremembered events. This is a trend that starts from an innocent and very human place and can evolve into so much more.
How Misinformation Takes Shape
Looking at the human brain, it’s not hard to understand how misinformation comes to be and moves into prevalence. Up to 50% of people struggle to tell real memories from fake ones. 30% of people were able to be actively convinced of a false autobiographical event. The brain is imperfect.
This presents itself most prominently in a phenomena like the Mandela Effect. Coined in 2009, it initially referred to the fact that so many people collectively thought that Nelson Mandela died in 1980, which he clearly did not. Mandela was the first President of South Africa the nature abolished apartheid, serving from 1994 to 1999. This likely isn’t some big government conspiracy though, or some example of the multiverse bleeding into this reality, it’s just bad memory.
Other examples include the Monopoly man never having a monocle. Darth Vader said “No” not “Luke, I am your father.” These have all thrown large groups of people into mild despair doubting their own memory. It’s truly no surprise, though due to a few key psychological explanations.
First and foremost, with the way information travels today, misinformation is easier to accept than factual information. Rumors are 70% more likely to win out in the public eye over factual information. Beyond this there are principles like Asch conformity, which is when people accept ideas to conform with, and be accepted by, a group.
Other Kinds of Memory Issues
Source-memory errors are when someone forgets the actual source of a memory, allowing for false information to be remembered as fact. Then there’s simply false memories, things that never happened that people are sure did. Imagination inflation is the human tendency to take information and imagine scenarios where it’s true.
The misinformation effect is the tendency to believe any new information presented is true. Priming is the exposure of certain stimuli that will influence the response to other stimuli, and confabulations are theories made without hard evidence, often unintentionally. These are just some of the flaws in the system that is the human mind that allow for things like the Mandela Effect.
Looking even more comprehensively, a few psychologists offer their opinions. Linda J. Levine from the University of California says that as we update memories with making any note of that. We can create an illusion when we remember things as they happened. In reality, these are memories of memories which are of memories.
Aaron Bonner-Jackson, a neuropsychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, contends that memory and reality are not inherently tied. There are countless factors influencing and shifting memory every day. When trying to confirm a memory, it’s best to try to confirm for yourself rather than taking someone else’s word for it.
The Mandela Effect is just one version of misinformation and how it can spread in modern society. While it’s certainly one of the least dangerous and influential, it goes to prove a greater point. The mind is fallible. It’s more important now than ever to verify and look for a large consensus in the information one espouses. There’s a group that believes everything, but when multiple separate groups believe it, that means something.
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