Rumors, fake news and conspiracy theories are circulating massively about the new corona virus. For example, the food supply is no longer secure or people are more susceptible to Sars-CoV-2 if they have taken certain pain relievers – both are not so. Even the Federal Ministry of Health is now warning the population of false news and scaremongering. How do you differentiate facts and important information from targeted disinformation? For ZEIT ONLINE, psychologist and cognitive researcher Markus Knauff has formulated tips for containing fake news and rumors about Sars-CoV-2.
1. If you find out something new about the virus online, don’t think immediately that you knew it beforehand.
Your memory of your previous knowledge is changed in your brain – without you realizing it – by a new statement or message. Often you only think that you have been right before. Check carefully if you haven’t learned something new about Sars-CoV-2. Be sure to write down what you know before you search the web. This way you avoid the so-called look-back error (hindsight bias).
2. How our brain processes an assertion also depends on the words used.
A phrase like “50 percent of patients die” is received differently than the phrase “50 percent of patients survive”. The words used define the framework in which our further thinking processes proceed. Therefore, always ask yourself why the author of a message chooses precisely these terms. In which direction should you be influenced or even manipulated? If you are aware of this, avoid the so-called framing error (Framing-Effect).
3. Do not look for information that confirms your opinion about the virus.
Look for information and arguments that speak against your real belief. In your brain – without you realizing it – information is processed in a highly selective manner so that your individual beliefs are retained. Therefore, also use information from sources that represent other opinions. Avoid opinion polling forums or newsgroups, blogs and the like, which only reflect your own thoughts anyway. This way you avoid the so-called confirmation error (confirmation bias).
4. Doubt what you think you and others think you know about the virus, or what you think is right.
People tend to overestimate their own knowledge and skills on a regular basis. If we have no idea about a topic, we are often unaware of how ignorant we really are. The less we know, the self-overestimation is particularly large. Keep in mind that this also applies to journalists in newspapers and online. Under certain circumstances, people may only consider themselves experts out of complete ignorance. Therefore, consult as many different sources as possible, critically examine the origin of a message and whether the author has the necessary expertise. This way you avoid the so-called Dunning Kruger effect.
5. If an event B follows event A, people mostly unconsciously assume that both are related.
It is not uncommon for people to believe that event A caused event B. If, for example, people fall ill who are infected with Sars-CoV-2 and who have previously taken a certain pain reliever, this has nothing to do with each other. People were probably already weakened by another illness. Connections are created in the brain that only seem to exist but actually do not exist. Therefore, check critically whether the connections that are made on social media are correct. Can there be other causes for the occurrence of B? This way you avoid the so-called causal error (illusory causality).
6. Do not rely on “common sense” on the Internet and in dealing with the media.
Every claim must be supported by evidence and arguments must be contradictory and coherent. Check that critically! They become easily manipulable when reasonable thinking lags behind the emotional impact of a claim. Belly decisions are susceptible to a variety of irrational thinking mechanisms. Fear in particular is a strong feeling, from which people are very strongly guided. So try to avoid the gut feeling mistake (good feeling error).
7. People think events are more likely the more available they are in their memory.
Memory availability is used subconsciously to replace missing information. So if the new one is everywhere Corona virus The issue is, we overestimate the likelihood of being infected yourself. Therefore, check the actual facts and figures, for example at the World Health Organization, the Federal Ministry of Health or the Robert Koch Institute. You will avoid the so-called availability error (availability error).
8. Pay attention to arguments that are not.
Bad arguments are not always easy to spot, but they influence you without you knowing it. The main type of argument is based on if-then statements. With such statements, you can often use the form of the sentences to check whether there is a conclusive argument. A bad argument says, for example, that a first step will inevitably lead to further steps: “If we decide A, then B follows from it, and C and D from it.” The error is that an imperative sequence is assumed here, although each of the subsequent steps depends on further decisions. Likewise, there are fixed rules for arguments that begin with “For everyone, that …” or “There is no …”. Therefore, check critically whether an argument is valid at all. Among other things, you avoid the dam break argument (slippery slope argument).
9. And very important: do not underestimate the effect of misinformation.
False messages permanently change your memory of events without you realizing it. False claims about the virus distort memories and can be far from the facts. Even if an assertion turns out to be wrong, the wrong memory is retained and / or leaves a gap in your thinking model. This gap is then often closed by other assumptions, which are often also wrong. You are not aware of this. Keep in mind that many stakeholders target misinformation. Therefore, always ask yourself who is interested in spreading certain rumors. In this way you avoid the misinformation effect and recognize targeted disinformation.