Why Objectively False Things Continue to Be Believed

In How We Behave, Misleading Information, The Upshot On
- Updated

Curator note: This might be the most important article on this website, that underlying facts are not persuasive as people seek information that conforms to what they want to believe. This is the problem to solve, we are not agreeing on facts.


“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” goes the saying — one that now seems like a relic of simpler times.

Mr. Trump’s claims may appear to his opponents to have been embarrassingly debunked. But social science research suggests that Mr. Trump’s alternative version of reality may appeal to his supporters.

Partisan polarization is now so extreme in the United States that it affects the way that people consume and understand information — the facts they believe, and what events they think are important. The wiretapping allegations could well become part of a partisan narrative that is too powerful to be dispelled.

Mr. Trump, perhaps unconsciously, has grasped a core truth of modern politics: that voters tend to seek out information that fits the story they want to believe, usually one in which members of the other party are the bad guys.

The result is that the same hearings may appear completely different to voters of different parties. Democrats may see a defeat for Mr. Trump because Mr. Comey rejected his wiretap claims and confirmed that the F.B.I. is investigating whether there was any coordination between his campaign and the Russian intelligence officials who interfered in the election.

But Republican voters may see confirmation that the leaks of classified information were criminal, and that former Obama administration officials had means, motive and opportunity to carry out the act. A Breitbart News report, for example, breezed past Mr. Comey’s debunking of the wiretap as “already known,” then focused on leaks to the press.

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