Do you have your B.S. Radar turned on? In today’s digital and multi-media age, the ability of identifying “fake news” and false information could never be more important. Underscoring the importance of this skill is social media’s effect on accelerating the spread of false information. Thus, the need to teach people how to identify and refute the fake information has become a new and burgeoning workplace trend.
It’s not that all of the people spreading the misinformation are liars. In fact, many of the culprits unknowingly spread the fake news, since they believe the information is true.
Here are the 8 most useful ways to spot the bullshit, whether in person, on T.V., or online:
- Validate the source of the information. Does it come from an expert, or someone who is at least knowledgeable about the subject? Might the source have a hidden agenda? What does this person or company stand to gain by sharing the information? For example, research studies should be conducted by an impartial organization that has zero ties to stakeholders in the study (e.g., a study on the benefits of drinking milk that is sponsored by the Dairy Association is likely to be biased).
- Try and detect whether people are trying to hide the reality that they know very little, if anything, about the topic. Studies have proven that people often B.S. in order to hide their lack of knowledge on the subject at hand.1 Conversely, those same studies have shown that if people know they will be challenged about an assertion, they are significantly less likely to bullshit about it.1
- Ask questions that accurately assess if the information is true, and whether it has been sensationalized. For example, percentage changes can be significant or insignificant depending on the numbers. Headlines are written to grab people’s attention, but they are often much more dramatic than the stories themselves.
- Ask for proof that assertions are true. Simply put, check and survey the facts. Nowadays, there is a lot of speculation for things that “could” happen. Watch for this language; it makes it possible for people to say anything as if it were fact.
- Pay close attention to the person’s eye contact and body language. Most people think gaze aversion is a sign of deception. Intuitively, this makes sense. However, it might come as a surprise that research shows liars often overcompensate by deliberately maintaining more eye contact than do truthful people.2
- Notice when people discount the opinions of the known experts on the subject. It is not uncommon for bullshitters to try and gain credibility and persuasion by poo-pooing experts’ conclusions. For example, when people who don’t have a background in science say that scientists are wrong, it’s a red flag. Of course it’s possible for non-scientists to know more about a scientific topic than scientists, but it’s unlikely.
- Make a self-assessment as to whether you are physically and/or mentally tired while you are hearing the information. Research has shown that people are prone to accepting false information when their cognitive resources are exhausted.
- Trust your gut; it’s bigger than you think. Human intuition is very strong. When something doesn’t seem quite right, there’s a good chance you’re picking up on a real problem.
It’s everyone’s responsibility to stop the spread of fake news. Before believing what you hear, or worse, sharing it with others, make sure you consider these tips for spotting B.S. Remember the well-known adage: If something sounds too good (or bad) to be true, it probably is.
- Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, March, 2018.
- Psychology Today, 2014.