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Fed up with Fake news? The truth is out there…

When the internet was born people were excited about it’s potential for sharing information easily, we were all going to be better informed and increase our knowledge. What was not predicted was the extent of misinformation, lies and errors there are on the web...

It’s understandable because human beings tend to filter for reinforcement of what they already believe, search engines even have algorithms that present you with the information that is most likely to match your existing beliefs and attitudes.

These beliefs and attitudes we learnt from people around us are hard to shift, children learn by making simple cause effect equations and then develop them. However our drive to make cause effect equations that are simple is still strong in adult-hood because they are quicker, require less thought and data collection and because we intuitively think they are correct.

Humans make most judgements based on their feelings unless they train themselves to do otherwise (like scientists). Even scientists follow rigorous protocols to help them avoid making bias judgements. Again evolution plays a part here, as babies one of the first visuals we respond to are faces, we learn one way to respond to friendly faces and another to strange or grumpy faces. As a result we build up a bank of intuition that leads us to make millisecond assessments about other people based on our experience and how they look - to us. We are predesigned to sort for sameness and this is why a lot of stereotyping is unconscious. People can have admirable morals but still be biased by that which they don’t consciously understand.

To avoid falling into the Fake News trap, all of us need to question our own automatic assumptions and start thinking more critically, not critical of other people, critical of our own biases and beliefs. Here are a few simple ways to begin to sort out the fake from the real.

  1. Be curious about difference. If someone has a view that is very different from yours, get curious rather than judgemental about it. You can’t both be right, so you are probably partially right and partially wrong, getting curious will help you to learn from different views rather than dismissing them straight away. You may still decide not to agree, that’s fine, it just stops you from staying with you own bias and dismissing other views.
  2. Question your own first impressions. Some of the best interviewers we know ignore the visual element of an interviewee completely, they can’t even recall what people look like. This takes away the possibility for visual bias which most of us process unconsciously and form instant opinions without even knowing.
  3. Don’t over rely on your intuition. Seek just one or two more pieces of evidence or data before you make a decision about something of someone. Over time this helps you to develop a better strategy for your actions and will strengthen the accuracy of your intuition.

It’s hard to accept that we can never have all the facts on a lot of things in life. Many times you will have to make a judgement or decision in a vacuum, but self awareness and the ability to challenge your own bias when it counts will improve your decision making, reasoning skills and no doubt, your relationships.

Thanks to the New Scientist (16th Dec 2017 edition article Thoughtlessly Thoughtless by Graham Lawton) for informing and inspiring this piece.

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