Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Fake News Isn’t The Problem: The Problem Is So Many People Believe It.

 The issue of “fake news” is one that’s currently being discussed around the internet, and it’s being framed as a big problem in the digital age.

Some have suggested that fake news is an ugly target that needs to be eradicated and blocked from the internet. Both Google and Facebook have taken steps to make fake news less prevalent, and a host of major news outlets from NPR to CNN and Forbes are all discussing this “problem.”

In many ways, it is a problem. For example, the owner of a pizza joint in Washington D.C received death threats and negative online reviews after a fake news story reported that Hillary Clinton was running a satanic child-sex-trafficking ring out of the back of the restaurant.  In other ways, fake news can be highly entertaining– satire often is. It has a way of exposing our fears, our assumptions, and bringing a degree of humor into what can often be a depressing news cycle.

But honestly, in a culture that places such high value on the freedom of speech, I’m surprised at the way the entire discussion is being framed. I’m surprised that so many seem to think that the fake news itself is the problem that needs to be addressed.

It’s not.

You see, the problem isn’t fake news at all– the problem is a lack of critical thinking on the part of so many Americans.

The problem isn’t that people write things that are untrue, but that so many people are quick to believe things that are untrue.

We’ve probably all seen it from time to time– that relative or friend from high school who shares an article or video that’s so ridiculously and obviously untrue, but insists it is gospel to the point of outright dismissing even the most concrete evidence to the contrary.

Trying to dialogue and reason with these people is often one of the most frustrating experiences in life.

Snopes is just a liberal propoganda site.

Do you really believe the lamestream media? Gosh, you’re such a sheeple.

But these interactions demonstrate that stories of Obama being a Muslim, 9-11 being an inside job, and Hillary Clinton running a satanic child trafficking ring out of a pizza parlor, are not the core problem we’re dealing with. The real problem we’re dealing with is something called confirmation bias.

I believe that confirmation bias is one of those things that can rapidly and permanently stunt our intellect and the way we see the world around us. It’s something that both liberals and conservatives are prone to, something that impacts our political views, our religious views, and everything else.

Essentially, the problem of confirmation bias is this: the easiest way to travel through life is to keep believing what we already believe deep down in our hearts. Thus, our natural inclination is to dismiss any information that conflicts with those inner beliefs– it’s a natural reaction, as having core beliefs challenged can be down right frightening.

This is precisely why people are so quick to believe fake news (or dismiss real news): the fake claims are confirming what they already believed, and having that inner belief challenged with the truth is too risky– so all information other than that which confirms our previously held belief, is quickly dismissed.

In science they say that the direction water travels in is always the “path of least resistance” and this concept is also true in the way we hold our beliefs. The path of least resistance is to simply keep believing what we already believed was true, and to only accept information that confirms those beliefs.

 While this may be the easiest way to travel through life, and while it may be the path of least resistance, it is not the most enlightening way to live. A far more rewarding journey is that which invites us to step into fear, to step into tension, and to allow those cherished beliefs to be challenged and shaped by new and differing information.

The reality is however, not everyone chooses that kind of journey. For these people, fake news websites are a treasured gift because they enable one to dismiss reality and continue confirming those beliefs that, for one reason or another, feel safe.

So is fake news a problem?

No, not at all.

The real problem is that so many people are quick to believe it.

But this reality also invites us to search ourselves: are we only willing to believe information that confirms what we already believe?

Or, are we willing to walk on a more enlightening journey?

I know which one I’m choosing, and I hope you’ll join me.

Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

It's not the end of the world, but it's pretty #@&% close. Trump's America & Franklin Graham's Christianity must be resisted.

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11 Responses

  1. My cousin, hates Hillary because, are you ready for this he says she is a lesbian. I have no idea where he came up with that, but he believes it with all his heart and soul.

  2. For many people, there are many things to know that they accept they are incapable to know. But hence they are affected by the news directly, or indirectly, they are forced to give their voice out of concern and fear. It is unfortunate that the big media companies also indulged in blatant fake news, the prevailing feelings of people is not to trust anyone but perhaps, their instincts. Unfortunately, see how Patheos itself entertain fake commercials…..

  3. I am definitely struggling with the issue of responsible media consumption now. One of the things that I see driving fake news (other than self-delusion and outright lying) is the crazy instant-news cycle. If you are under pressure to report instantly you are going to make mistakes and not check facts adequately. While I am not interested in anyone’s bloviating I think we need to do more to support thorough, thoughtful journalism –including analysis– and try to discourage what too often is little more than rumor-mongering.

    On a related note, I am also concerned about confirmation bias and would like to know where you can find thoughtful conservative news and analysis. I am not a conservative I think both sides are healthier when they are engaged in dialectic rather than talking past each other.

  4. I agree with everything you stated in your article, Mr. Corey. Critical thinking is becoming a lost art in today’s America. I believe this is by design. For more on this, I would recommend reading “An Underground History of American Education ” by John Taylor Gatto, who was once voted Teacher of the Year in NY. It’s free online book, you can Google it.

    But here is what frightens me most about this “fake news” controversy, and it chills me to the bone:

    1) The Washington Post and other members promoting this “fake news” theory themselves have a long history of promoting “fake news” (WMD in Iraq, Assad made a chemical weapons attack, Iran was trying to build nukes, Putin invaded Ukraine, Putin shot down MH 17, Gulf of Tonkin etc.

    2) Lumped in with sites that actually purvey fake news are many legitimate sites who all seem to have one thing in common: they are antiwar and anti-neoliberal websites who I rely on for truthful reporting. I’m talking about Counterpunch, Oped News, Antiwar.com, Zerohedge, Washington ‘s blog, to name a few. I can’t tell you how valuable there sites have been to me in debunking the fake news of the MSM. It is because of these sites that I knew Bush was lying about WMD, and I can’t tell you how many times I uncovered truths in these sites which the msm was eventually forced to admit.

    3) Propornot.com is a shadowy anonymous and thus suspecy entity. The author of the “fake news” article in WaPo refused to release the most basic details on who is behind this group or what criteria they used to make the list of alleged “fake news” websites.

    4) The very idea of a list reeks of censorship and authoritarianism.

    My fear is that the powers that be are realizing that their propaganda is no longer working and that this is a first step toward massive gutting of the First Amendment.

    1. I also meant to say that I try to avoid confirmation bias by reading as many varied points of view as possible. There are a lot of commentators I read who I agree with on some issues and disagree with on. But some things are undeniable facts. And facts are routinely omitted or distorted in the MSM as well as on weird conspiratorial websites.

  5. Jesus taught his followers to “Seek..” yet Trump and his White Evangelical followers (81%) practice the polar opposite. White Privilege is fighting to exonerate itself by any means necessary, which partially accounts for the rise of frothing hysteria and compulsive deception after the election.

  6. The demographic that believes fake news has never engaged in critical thinking and never will. Under the Fairness Doctrine it was more difficult to dupe them all, though.

  7. Confirmation bias can stop us from researching evidence also. We can assume what we see on TV news must be correct so we are not willing to take the effort to look at any evidence that it may be false.

  8. I’m going to do a study and use the search engine ‘bearing false witness’. I’m asking:
    ✔What are the consequences of bearing false witness?
    ✔What what do people lie about?
    ✔why do people lie?
    It seems to me lying has a lot to do with gaining an advantage and Power. It seems to me that when manipulation and gaslighting tears the fabric of reality paranoia & anxiety may enter and influence people and even whole societies.
    In my humble opinion One must resist the temptation to lie or believe lies with the discerning power of the Holy Spirit or else find a scapegoat.
    ✔Are liars personalities Changed by their lies so they cannot empathize with other people anymore?
    One cannot trust a liar.
    ✔In what ways are Liars are predators?
    ✔What are the consequences of creating lies that people believe and act upon?
    I’m assuming Justice, love and truth are the only real things that last and have any permanent traction in the world. Reality can be distorted for a while but only love, truth and Justice remains. ✔will love, truth, justice work to restore peace and Order?
    ✔what does the information One Believes have to do to do with one’s core identity?
    I think people fight literally to the death when they are challenged with information that conflicts with who and what they identify with and what their identities are based upon Especially if it impacts their ability to earn a living.

  9. “but that so many people are quick to believe things that are untrue.” So true, and it’s their political and religious leaders, who these people look to for guidance, who are the creators and advocates of this stuff. Much of it is done with the intent of producing their desired result. And it works.

  10. amen

    The path of least resistance is to simply keep believing what we already believed was true, and to only accept information that confirms those beliefs.

    The problem really lies in our community of birth where we depend on their input to guide our growing judgment to discern truth from fiction. Most communities don’t teach beyond what they determine they and their own can survive by. Too many send their 18 to 30 year old’s to war gambling that their sacrifice will save their community.

    so all information other than that which confirms our previously held belief, is quickly dismissed.

    How many communities understand this as good news (gospel)?

    Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

    “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

    “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

    “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

    Luke 14:25-35

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