Thursday, March 8, 2018

#67 / Is There A Vaccine For Propaganda?

Monika Bauerlein, writing in Mother Jones (she is the CEO), has posed the question: "Is there a vaccine for propaganda?"According to Bauerlein, there is. It is called "the truth." 

Bauerlein's one-page opinion piece ("To Our Readers") makes a good argument, and Bauerlein does confront what she knows will be instant skepticism. Since when, we might all ask, does "the truth" carry the day? Bauerlein's response is based on social science research:

It turns out the firehose of falsehood may not be invincible; confronted with facts, it ultimately turns into a trickle. In 2016, long before the election that showed us all how powerful disinformation can be, the RAND Corporation published a study of propaganda techniques that noted that truth can actually serve as an inoculant. Giving people facts and context makes them less vulnerable to BS.

You might be thinking: Since when? Haven’t we learned that facts don’t matter, that people actually believe a lie more strongly when you confront them with the truth? Turns out that like every other assumption, this one deserves to be challenged—and it doesn’t hold up. Slate’s Daniel Engber has a great deep dive on new research that has begun to debunk what’s known as the “backfire effect.” In fact, people (even those fairly hardened in their beliefs) will often correct their misperceptions when they are confronted with the truth.

That is welcome news. As Bauerlein notes, "We all have access to more information than ever before, and as a result it has become harder than ever to be informed." 

She also says, in concluding her pitch, that "Truth ... can act as a kind of vaccine - but immunity works best when it gets to as many people as possible."

Every one of us can help with that!

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