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How do we fight post-truth?

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Anja M
Anja M Feb 08, 2021
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Necessity

Is the problem still unsolved?

Conciseness

Is it concisely described?

Recently I’ve finished a small research on the change in the meaning and understanding of “truth” in different times. So, at this point of time in which I am still fresh on the topic, there are some questions I am curious to learn more about through public opinion. The questions would be: 1.Can we come up with some more precise strategies to fight post-truth we encounter on daily bases?
2.What cognitive biases do you recognize in yourself?

And here is a short introduction to give this topic a frame in which we can elaborate further.
In 2016. “post-truth” became a word the Oxford dictionary recognizes as the word of the year, since its usage in the previous year sky-rocketed for 2000%. In the dictionary, it is defined as an adjective signifying something that: “relates to circumstances in which people respond more to feelings and beliefs than to facts”. In his book by the same name, Lee McIntyre thoroughly discusses the history and evolution of this notion. In a word, it is important we notice post-truth is neither just a lie, not just a political spin, it goes as far as questioning the reality of reality itself (p.10). By letting this sink in, we soon realize it should not come as a surprise that so many conspiracy theories have sprouted and flourished in the last decade, gaining more and more followers. Fighting facts could only been done by offering “alternative facts”. McIntyre ascribes the for this in the modern history to the tobacco industry, which in 1953. had to confront the paper which offered a viable correlation between tobacco consumption and lung cancer. Until 1998. when the industry opened about its spin and unraveled their scheme with all the documents, they were paying some scientists to conduct “additional research” and thus offer “another side of the story”, thus creating a public atmosphere which loses the ground on the viability of facts. Similar, if not the same, is happening with global warming.

So, facts per se have lost the credibility match and weight no longer as they should when we are forming our judgements.

At the end of the book, McIntyre proposes four general tips on how to fight with this phenomenon.
  • Don’t accept to live in a post-truth world.
We are not to simply come to terms with this being our reality. There are daily encounters in which we can contribute to those making heavily erroneous judgements, although even starting a conversation with someone who does not accept some basic premises of the discussed topic can be tricky.
  • People are ultimately not immune to correct, although unpleasant facts.
Two researches, by David Redlawsk et al. and James Kuklinski et al. show that although when confrontation happens, a backfire effect usually does as well, if something touches people’s lives directly and they are persistently exposed to it, they eventually yield and are willing to reconsider and adjust their opinions.
  • Everyone is prone to a certain cognitive bias.
Like it or not, all of us have (or lack) mechanisms that can on certain occasions when we feel particularly eager something to be proven the way we favour it. So, if we are to fight this phenomenon, we have to first and foremost start with the inner recognition of the mechanisms. And this is my question #2.
  • “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”
By Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I think this sums it up pretty clearly.


So, once again, can we, quite literally, brainstorm in more particular details about the ways in which we can engage in fighting the manifests of post-truth in a successful way? Also, can you try and illuminate some of your personal biases you find occasionally occurring and explain why/when they usually occur?
Do not worry, this is not a social experiment and your names would be used nowhere. :)

[1]Lee McIntyre, Post-Truth, MIT Press, 2018.

[2]David P. Redlawsk et al., The Affective Tipping Point: Do Motivated Reasoners Ever “Get It”?, Political Psychology volume 31, issue 4, p.563-593

[3]James Kuklinski et al., “Misinformation and the Currency of Democratic Citizenship,” Journal of Politics 62, no. 3 (August 2000): 790–816

[4]Backfire effect is the phenomenon occurring when confronted with true information, someone clings to their false belief even stronger.

3
Creative contributions

Do you really want to change their beliefs?

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Feb 09, 2021
Knowing whether you really want to change someone's beliefs is the first step. Changing the belief of a large group of people, such as this - theflatearthsociety.org is much more difficult than changing the beliefs of a few closer to you.

If not necessary, do not try to change it. It is like holding one end of an elastic string and the other person holding the other. The more arguments you make in favor of the facts that you are trying to get the other person to understand, the more you tug on the string. When the other person feels the tug, they start doing it too with their counter-arguments. This may make them even greater believers in a concept irrational to you. If you simply let loose, they may not oppose you staunchly. They may even believe otherwise sometime in the future.
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Anja M
Anja M9 months ago
I wrote about this "string" under the bias called backfire effect. The problem of post-truth is pervading too much, so we are not talking about simply changing someone's mind for the sake of it. We are talking about a real-deal paradigm shift that "anything goes" is "our truth". For example, we are in a pandemic now, can we say that the number of anti-vaxxers in the world at this particular point is something naive? No, we can't. So we are talking about influencing this whole paradigm, starting from a smaller scale, like the author said, influencing as calmly as possible those immediatelly around us.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni9 months ago
Anja M One person at a time, then. The only way around I can think of. If you stand in front of a mob, you may not be able to inject sense in a single person.
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Try to change their beliefs

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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni Feb 09, 2021
If I understand it correctly, "post-truth" falls under the umbrella of "belief". Belief is not always a bad thing, nor is it new. "Research has shown that when deeply held beliefs are called into question, the amygdala, a part of the brain that processes emotions, kicks into high gear as if we were encountering danger, leaving us in no mood to consider a difference of opinion." So, there is no medicine for belief?
  1. To counter post-truth on a daily basis, you may try to gain the trust of the person in subject. A strategy to persuade someone you know is to soften them up with reminders of your closeness and then help them understand your point of view.
  2. Another strategy is to use the rules of supply and demand. The rarer something is, the more people want it, and the more they are willing to accept/ achieve. Try convincing them that what they believe in is not new and, definitely, not unique.
  3. Try using phrases and opinions of a person close to them, or the one they believe in. For example, "since Elon Musk says so, it might be true".
  4. When it comes to changing beliefs, facts are secondary. It is the human element that matters. For most believers, data and evidence may not be the way to change their mind. Since we are social creatures, we are fascinated by other humans.

[1]https://forge.medium.com/a-guide-to-changing-someone-elses-beliefs-c08fc1cb956b

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Anja M
Anja M9 months ago
Thanks for your comment! So, a couple of things:
Yes, belief is sth that is the base of all knowledge. (not to mix it with belief like a spiritual, religious one, this time), so the main problem is not that we have any, but how they are structured.
Your point 3 is that argumentum ad autoritatem, yes, it is one of the main problems of non-reflecting. Point 4 is what we have to aim at, eventually. To first adopt the relevance of relevant data and not let themselves to arbitrariness.
On point 2... I am not sure, at this point, it works for some of the main conspiracy theories, like flat-earth, vaccines, etc. Can you give me some better examples for it in this context?
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni9 months ago
Anja M Here is some more explanation for point 2: People are attracted towards anything unique - be it positive or negative. Even though negative things are frowned upon, that won't stop you from sharing (spreading the news) it with your friends. Therefore, one thinks that possession of unique beliefs may make them attractive. This is one of the reasons behind believing in non-factual things. Everyone relies on facts. If you do not, that makes you unique. Some people are, therefore, more susceptible to fake news or conspiracy theories and they try and spread the knowledge they possess before confirming it just because it is not common knowledge or common opinion. They possess something that very few others know/ hold. "The perception of scarcity becomes a more powerful incentive for people to get on board with your ideas." [1]

We don't usually announce when we take a flu shot. Many others take it regularly. It has become a common thing. But telling people that the covid vaccine is bad and can do more harm than good is not that common. Moreover, covid is something that is on everybody's mind currently. It is the active thing (hot topic). Having more knowledge regarding a hot topic (doesn't matter if it is true or false), makes you attractive, is what you think.

Therefore, telling them what they know is not new or not uncommon may discourage them from boasting / talking about / spreading it. Benefits of the cause are lost when many people know about it. This may stop the spread of rumors. You will have lesser people to convince them of the truth. Also, the discouraged ones might be more receptive now since they are not that popular anymore. It might be easier to convince them of your thoughts.
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Should we be critical even at the cost of dismissal?

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Feb 11, 2021
Well, this question is interesting. While not everyone has critical faculties sufficiently fine-tuned to differentiate the nuances between the truth and post-truth, people should really pay attention when it comes to giving in to ideologies and narratives. Here, I want to draw from my very own recent experience online where I tweeted that maybe people are flexing too much as travellers with their posts and photos from one of the most accessible treks in our country. I meant to inject some humour (however in retrospect that turned out to be cynical) in my observation that with the rise of social media usage, the aesthetic drive of humans has propelled them to be more celebratory than might actually be needed. However, I received a severe backlash for the tweet; people dismissed me because I failed to acknowledge their achievement of having completed that trek. Instances like these make me realise my own biases/insecurities as an individual on the internet, on the other hand, it amazes me to see that it has almost become impossible to not offend anyone anymore. I concede that I might have hurt some people (with a sarcastic post), but should truth be kept at the cost of keeping everyone happy? What's wrong when I say that 'come on man, this is an easy trek. What if you were overhyping the thrill?' The case with post-truth is that it has some elements of truth, and it caters mostly to the non-critical, emotional part of our mind. Giving in to the natural tendency too follow the hard-coded heuristics, we often fall prey to the version of truth that best fits our judgement. Somehow, this could be related to the growing concern over unhealthy "wokeness" around the world. Often things that need not be politicized become politicized to serve the interests of a particular group of people; it sometimes results in asymmetric moral/ethical policing.
This article tells some of the ways we can adopt online to argue better. However, the best approach in my view is to take things with an skeptic filter; especially whenever we are being introduced to new ideas, concepts and narratives previously unknown to us.

[1]https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/12/smarter-living/how-to-argue-on-the-internet-without-losing-your-mind.html

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Anja M
Anja M9 months ago
Yes, you are right... You just added another problem, of written communication + biases of internet bubbles we all live in. Written word is always easier to misinterpret, as there is no facial expression, no sound. In my case, I was one of those users who used emoticons very little, and I literally had to make myself learn to use them to avoid ambigous situations as much as possible (but it seems I haven't quite obtained it in enough quantity). Additionally, like you said, people got so easy to offend. Everyone is offended by just someone else having a different opinion, and that is a huge problem, and I also think quite related to having the post-truth as something so present in our lives, whether we notice it or not. So, like Shubhankar said, the problem is really how to fight something irrational with rational means, but it is not impossible. It is maybe so on a larger scale, but not really in some real one-on-one scenarios. So, as much as any such convo easily slips like you dipped your hands in oil and tried to catch stuff, if we just give up, we are tacitly accepting to live with it and only passively nag.
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Shubhankar Kulkarni
Shubhankar Kulkarni9 months ago
Great point Subash Chapagain ! You endure similar backlashes not just when you try to fight post-truth but almost every time you have something to say. It is difficult to have a discussion in an opinionated world. Your suggestion is another reason for my suggestion "Do you really want to change their beliefs?" in this session. I think fighting post-truth is fighting irrationality with rational tools. It, probably, may be the best to avoid it.
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General comments

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Povilas S
Povilas S9 months ago
Was the term post-truth derived having in mind postmodernism? Since postmodernism basically states that there is no objective truth, all theories then become equally valid
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Anja M
Anja M9 months ago
Povilas S The author of the book relies the most on that, yes. He gives a historical retrospective on why he thinks post-truth developed unintentionally due to the rise of postmodernism.
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