Why Do We Fall for Internet Myths?
We are more connected than ever, and yet people will still take myth over fact.
Lyz Lenz from Aeon has decided to confront the issue as to why people continue to perpetuate myths when the truth is just a Google or Snopes search away. So, how do these fictitious stories about the government removing “In God We Trust” from currency become immortalized on the web and in email chains? Lenz writes that it’s “because these myths feed into a deeper truth that we believe about the world…”
“While some internet myths are ephemeral and silly, designed to make us laugh, others tap into our deeply held beliefs about society and culture. The fake Facebook privacy statement has staying power because it connects to our ambivalence about security and technology.”
In one study, Jonah Berger and Katherine Milkman wanted to assess what made an article go viral. They combed through 7,000 articles from The New York Times, and discovered stories with a strong emotional connection had the greatest potential to blow up on the web. Lenz thinks this emotional connection further adds to a false story’s staying power.
“People believe the stories that they connect to, the ones that affirm their view of the world, truth be damned.”
What’s more, if you believe in something enough, there’s already a not-so-reputable forum that will confirm what you hold true. Lenz’s husband has a profound saying that states:
“’If you Google long enough, anything becomes the truth.’”
If you want to have a discourse with someone who takes an internet myth to heart, don’t battle them with fact-checking sites, like Snopes. Researchers say, first, try to empathize — find out what kind of emotional rational this myth triggered. Then you’ll be better equipped to talk about the issue, and possibly dissuade them.
To read more about the historical and cultural significance of myths, check out Lenz’s article on Aeon.
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