Type the most outrageous conspiracy theory you’ve heard of into Google and you’ll find the validation for it. Be it that vaccinations cause autism, fluoride in water will turn you into a communist, some world leaders are reptiles and my favorite, the earth is flat. The internet age readily delivers. The truth apparently depends on how many follow and like you on social media.
We are part of the problem. People, newspapers, media outlets and most politicians only call out the lies and gossip that contradict their own view, not the ones that support it. As long as the lies and gossips vilify our (perceived) enemies, it’s okay. We rather believe anonymous sources and people who prey on the most vulnerable than verifiable empiric data.
Voters here (and elsewhere) happily vote for those who habitually lie, as long as the lies play to their prejudices. We don’t mind lies –as long as it’s what we want to hear. And giving people the lies they want pays off handsomely at elections.
Why are some people so vulnerable? According to the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, delusion-prone individuals, narrow-minded people and religious fundamentalists are more likely to believe lies. This is related to a failure to be actively open-minded and able to think critically.
Truth is that lies undermine democracies. Some countries have introduced legislation to curb lies and disinformation being spread on the internet. Finland has taken another route. It believes that education and the tradition of reading books are more powerful tools. This approach requires patience, but it could be hastened, if we really want to. Quick fixes and only talk about the problem of lies and gossip, especially when it doesn’t fit our particular goals, won’t cut the mustard.