• Martin Gagnon

The Buzz of the Hive

I just came across an interview with Cailin O'Connor who wrote what I believe is one of the best books on the spread of misinformation. O'Connor is a philosopher and mathematician at the University of California, Irvine who studies how information, both good and bad, can pass from person to person. She is co-author with James Weatherall of the book "The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread."

The takeaway from her book is that more emphasis needs to be placed on the social nature of people and that implication on the spread of misinformation. Below is an excerpt from her interview on the NPR show The Hidden Brain.

VEDANTAM: So one of the fundamental premises in your book is that human beings are extremely dependent on the opinions and knowledge of other people, and this is what creates channels for fake news to flourish and spread. Let's talk about this idea. Can you give me some sense of our dependence on what you call the testimony of others?

O'CONNOR: So one reason we wrote this book is that we noticed that a lot of people thinking about fake news and false belief were thinking about problems with individual psychology - so the way we have biases and processing information, the fact that we're bad at probability. But if you think about the things you believe, almost every single belief you have has come from another person. And that's just where we get our beliefs because we're social animals. And that's really wonderful for us. That's why we have culture and technology. You know, that's how we went to the moon. But if you imagine this social spread of beliefs as opening a door, when you open a door for true beliefs to spread from person to person, you also open the door for false beliefs to spread from person to person. So it's this kind of double-sided coin.


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