Misinformation researchers have proposed two competing hypotheses for why people fall for fake news on social media. The popular assumption—supported by research on apathy over climate change and the denial of its existence—is that people are blinded by partisanship, and will leverage their critical-thinking skills to ram the square pegs of misinformation into the round holes of their particular ideologies. According to this theory, fake news doesn't so much evade critical thinking as weaponize it, preying on partiality to produce a feedback loop in which people become worse and worse at detecting misinformation.
The other hypothesis is that reasoning and critical thinking are, in fact, what enable people to distinguish truth from falsehood, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum. (If this sounds less like a hypothesis and more like the definitions of reasoning and critical thinking, that's because they are.).
Which then means that people believing fake news aren't rationalising their positions but just committing "mental laziness".
My rough-and-ready definition of analytical intelligence would be the capacity to process information to form a conclusion. Critical thinking would be a capability to overcome bias, i.e. to sincerely judge which conclusion is in better agreement with the evidence regardless of personal preference. These are not the same, so an intelligent but non-critical person can use highly sophisticated methods to rationalise whatever position they want. Such people do exist - those who are highly biased but also highly intelligent. But, purely anecdotally, intelligence and criticiallity aren't uncorrelated. It does happen, but it's rare to get someone extremely intelligent but uncritical, or vice-versa (ignoring more complex group effects). These people are by far the hardest to convince of anything, and the vocal ones are disproportionately influential, but they are rare.
Under this definition, people who believe fake news aren't using their critical thinking skills, but they're not exactly being mentally "lazy" either. Or rather, what I would guess is that people who aren't terribly critical and/or intelligent are indeed being mentally lazy, but those who are intelligent but not critical... those are the dangerous ones, the ones who will use intelligence to rationalise but not criticise. The ability to challenge self-bias is a different skill to that of analysing data, in my view. Again, not uncorrelated, but they're not the same either. Intelligent people who rationalise in a sophisticated way aren't being "lazy", that's too simple, they're just being uncritical.
The researchers found that, despite partisan differences in trust, the crowdsourced ratings did "an excellent job" distinguishing between reputable and non-reputable sources.
"That was surprising," says Rand. Like a lot of people, he originally assumed the idea of crowdsourcing media trustworthiness was a "really terrible idea." His results not only indicated otherwise, they also showed, among other things, "that more cognitively sophisticated people are better at differentiating low- vs high-quality [news] sources."
All of which suggests susceptibility to fake news is driven more by lazy thinking than by partisan bias. Which on one hand sounds—let's be honest—pretty bad. But it also implies that getting people to be more discerning isn't a lost cause. Changing people's ideologies, which are closely bound to their sense of identity and self, is notoriously difficult. Getting people to think more critically about what they're reading could be a lot easier, by comparison.
I dunno, my feeling is that it's going to be a lot more complicated than that. Identity-driven partisanship probably helps drive both lazy (unsophisticated) and/or uncritical thinking, in different circumstances.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Platforms could use visual cues that call to mind the mere concept of truth in the minds of their users—a badge or symbol that evokes what Rand calls an "accuracy stance."
IIRC, Facebook already tried something similar to this and it didn't work well at all, but I can't find the story right now.
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