The digital age bombards us with more information than we can possibly handle. This leaves us more susceptible to cognitive biases, which in turn causes us to make more suboptimal judgements and decisions than ever before. “With the large volume of information and repeated exposure to messages on different platforms from different people, there is a significant vulnerability of cognitive biases to influence people’s decision-making,” says Dr Eryn Newman, cognitive psychologist and senior lecturer at the Australian National University. As much as we might like to think we can’t be unconsciously swayed, the truth is, we’re all vulnerable to the mis- and disinformation we encounter online.
There are numerous cognitive biases, but, according to Kahneman, overconfidence is the most significant. When it comes to consuming information online, we tend to feel more confident in our ability to discern fact from fiction than we really are. Ironically, this makes us more likely to fall victim to misinformation and unwittingly participate in its circulation. Indeed, a large-scale study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that three in four Americans overestimate their ability to distinguish between legitimate and false news headlines.
If we want to get better at identifying false news content, we must slow down and engage in self-monitoring behaviours. Lisa Bortolotti, professor of philosophy at the University of Birmingham, suggests pausing to ask yourself where a story has come from before you share it: “Check whether there is independent evidence supporting it, who would have an interest in spreading it and what effect it might have on debates we care about.”