Image description: From a high angle, a woman sits at a small table and reads the cover of The New York Times newspaper.
By Courtney Withers
We’ve all been in a situation where your weird uncle or distant family member says some outrageously false claim at family lunch on a Sunday – and you just have to sit there and nod politely. You know that there is absolutely no substance or legitimacy to their ‘whispers’ about the latest political figure or news event – yet they seem convinced.
I did hear an exceptional comment from a family friend recently about how Coronavirus is being caused by 5G technology. You can begin to understand how these ‘whispers’ are not very useful in general discussion.
I’m no politics major, but I did just complete a very interesting unit about the media and politics, and it got me thinking about a few things. Who really sets the agenda of the news cycle? And how has this phenomenon of ‘fake news’ become so prevalent?
A part of the unit was hyper-focused on memory, especially how it contributes to the spread of fake news in our society. We discussed the concept of misattribution, and the way our memory plays a part in how we remember – or don’t remember – certain things.
The Mandela Effect
Fake news relies on misattribution and false memories without us even knowing it. In the end, it all comes back to the source: how did we hear about the information in the first place?
The Mandela Effect is a pretty well-known concept for any particularly woke and conspiracy-driven young person, and is useful in this discussion. The Effect is concerned with how we remember certain details about what we read, listen to, and talk about.
I was reading about this a couple of months ago in a Buzzfeed article (RIP Buzzfeed), whilst trying to procrastinate from uni work and everything else I had to do, and was quite shocked with a few of their examples. I’m not usually one to believe in conspiracies like this, but I was, for lack of a better word, shook.
Did you know that in the movie Forrest Gump (1994), the titular character actually says “Life was like a box of chocolates”, not “Life is like a box of chocolates”, and that Fruit Loops cereal is actually spelt Froot Loops on the box? I’m sure that’s not how you remember these things – crazy, right?
What Does This Have to Do with Fake News?
The Mandela Effect – this idea of remembering things incorrectly – is not so different from the concept of spreading fake news. Quite simply, it only takes one person to misquote something a political leader has said, or describe a news event incorrectly, for discussions about it to be misguided.
This notion of misattribution and myths being spread within the news cycle are contributed by our own personal bias and where our beliefs lie. We are more likely to remember a news story or source if our personal beliefs align with said source, in comparison to something that angers us, perhaps coming from the opposite spectrum of where we align politically.
In addition to the role we play in perpetuating news that aligns with our personal biases, news outlets also play a part. Some online sites may enjoy fond memories of being received positively by their audience, and thus might exclude information, or dismiss anything that critiques them. This not only effects the actual fake news that we discuss, but influences our memory of how events occurred. Pretty trippy, right?
The link of fake news to memory is actually more prevalent than some might think. With higher amounts of propaganda both being linked to the creation of false memories, and political leaders dismissing claims under the justification that there is no proper evidence available, of course our memory becomes overloaded. Much like Fiona Broome, who coined The Mandela Effect, we too run the risk of our memory obscuring the truth.
Food for Thought
After learning about the link of memory to fake news, I started to question anything I had ever read, and whether I had recounted it correctly. It is definitely something interesting to think about, but I don’t want to dive too deep into that philosophical ‘shower thought’, because I don’t think I will be able to get back out.
As so-called ‘fake news’ grabs our attention, appeals to our emotions, and is increasingly more effective at delegitimising criticism and debate, it’s important to not get caught up in all the bells and whistles.
It is now more integral than ever – with the increasing focus on fake news in our society – for us to remember information accurately. Easier said than done, right? It’s times like these that I wish I’d played more Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old Is Your Brain? on my Nintendo DS when I was younger.
Information should be accurate, and free from bias. It should also be readily available to everyone, without the interference from government, agendas from media owners, or public figures. We need to trust journalism and its processes, and not let our memory compromise accuracy when it comes to discussion and debate.
So, when the next person tells you some outrageous whisper about the news cycle, or comments on a political figure, consider if they are remembering the information and source correctly. The last thing you want to do is propel fake news without meaning to.
Unless you are meaning to, but that’s another story…
Courtney Withers thinks seasons eight and nine of The Office are not the same without Michael Scott.
Image courtesy of Lina Kivaka via Pexels