Donald Trump and many members of his administration have capitalized on the fact that conservatives love fake news and reject facts and scientific evidence. While there are fake news sites on both sides of the political spectrum, research shows that the problem is far worse on the right than it is on the left.
The Washington Post reports that conservatives are both more likely to post fake news and more likely to believe it compared to liberals.
Conservatives have been found to be highly receptive to stories that reinforce their existing worldview. While this may be somewhat true of many people, there is evidence to show that liberals are not as receptive to fake news. Not only are conservatives more likely to fall for fake news they are more likely to produce it. A Buzzfeed analysis of Facebook revealed that leading conservative pages were twice as likely to publish fake news compared to leading liberal pages.
According to research conducted by New York University research psychologist John Jost and his colleagues conservatives tend not to be critical thinkers. This lack of affinity for critical thinking may explain why conservatives are more receptive to fake news. In his review of 40 studies, Jost found that liberals were far more likely to think critically than conservatives.
As Stefan Pfattheicher of Ulm University explained in an email to the post, conservatives, “are less reflective in information processing, especially when information is consistent with [their] own worldviews.”
Pfattheicher found that conservatives were more likely to be duped by nonsense than liberals. A small study conducted by Pfattheicher showed a significant correlation between susceptibility to nonsensical statements and support for Trump and other Republican candidates. No such relationship was found in those who support Democratic candidates.
It is interesting to note that conservatives may not be less intelligent they may simply be less motivated to process information critically. Simply put, conservatives would rather consume news that supports their existing beliefs.
Daniel Kahan, a Yale professor of law and psychology, said that his research suggests that conservatives have the same level of political bias as liberals. However, Kahan’s findings are at odds with 11 other studies that show people on the left are more apt to engage in cognitive reflection than those on the right.
During the presidential campaign Trump repeatedly used a fake news related tactic that appears to have served him well. He would call Clinton the very things that he himself is guilty of. The one that may have gained the most traction is “crooked Hilary”.
The Trump campaign and now the administration in waiting hijack certain words to take control of a narrative that could be otherwise used against them.
By redefining fake news in their own terms and claiming that reporting by outlets such as The New York Times and CNN constitute fake news, right-wing media figures are bolstering the President-elect’s continued efforts to delegitimize mainstream news sources. This blurs the distinction between real and fake news. While fake news represents a serious impediment to an informed electorate, it is being used by conservatives as an effective instrument of disinformation.
Fake news is a large and growing problem but efforts are underway to combat it.
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