First used in 1949, “fake out” means to deliberately mislead. Many of us today express behavior that is specious, deceptive, and fraudulent in our attempts to dupe, bamboozle, bluff, beguile, fool, trick or con one another. How is this obviously unhealthy and prevalent behavior affecting our community?
It could be said that “Job One” for our species is creating a sustainable human community. To do that we have to develop the ability to distinguish illusion from reality. The proliferation of fake news in today’s media only makes that task more difficult. Recent studies have shown that the majority of Americans either cannot distinguish real current events from fake news or don’t care about making that distinction.
Three professors at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management analyzed 126,000 Twitter “cascades” (unbroken chains of retweets with a common, singular origin) about stories spread by three million people more than four and a half million times. “Disturbingly, we found that false stories spread significantly more than did true ones.” (1) In other words many of us don’t think knowing the truth is important. Why is that?
Obviously, many Americans believe being disingenuous supports the goals of their “fake identity,” their ego-centered false self in achieving its aims related to pursuing security, sensation and power. Having a Chief Executive in the Oval Office demonstrating the efficacy of “alternative facts” may make it easier for many of us to rationalize our own self-destructive behavior. For example, Trump engaged in an all too typical fabrication on March 14, 2018 at a Republican fund-raiser in St. Louis. “Oh, get a load of this trade stuff I made up to outfox that fox, Justin Trudeau. I felt bad doing it to such a nice, good-looking guy. But it’s hilarious!” (2) Ha! Ha! Ha! Our president should be an entertainer. Whoops!
Donald Trump had successfully used deception in his business and media career so it was natural for him to be able to excuse the same behavior as a politician. “In his memoir, ‘The Art of the Deal,’ he called it ‘truthful hyperbole’ or ‘innocent exaggeration.’” (3)
White House communications director Hope Hicks after her recent resignation revealed to lawmakers on Capitol Hill how our Commander-in-Chief can encourage bad habits. She said that “she sometimes told white lies on behalf of Mr. Trump.” (4) It’s no wonder some Americans are having trouble distinguishing fact from fiction.
After all, our current president is not the only politician who tells “white lies.” “Since Mr. Trump became a presidential candidate, PolitiFact has evaluated more than 500 assertions and found 69 percent of them mostly false, false or ‘pants on fire’ false. By comparison, it judged 26 percent of the statements by Mr. Obama that it evaluated as false and the same percentage for those by Hillary Clinton.” (3)
“False claims were 70 percent more likely than the truth to be shared on Twitter. True stories were rarely retweeted by more than 1,000 people, but the top 1 percent of false stories were routinely shared by 1,000 to 100,000 people. And it took true stories about six times as long as false ones to reach 1,500 people.” (5) We probably cannot expect to solve the many serious problems that we are facing in America today as long as we allow ourselves to be “faked out.”
Insight # 26: We see, hear or experience what we want to be there and then react as if it were real.
- See Truth in The ABC’s of Simple Reality, in print and on this blog, by Roy Charles Henry, 2018.
- Aral, Sinan. “How Lies Spread Online.” The New York Times. March 11, 2018, page 6.
- Dowd, Maureen. “Trump, Flush With Power.” The New York Times. March 18, 2018, page 11.
- Baker, Peter. “When Fiction Is a Fact of Life.” The New York Times. March 18, 2018, page 22.
- Davis, Julie Hirschfeld. “Trump Repeats False Claim About Trade With Canada.” The New York Times. March 16, 2018, page A4.
- Lohr, Steve. “Why We’re Easily Seduced by False News.” The New York Times. March 9, 2018, page B4.