Why are We Adopting Fake News: Tips for Critical Thinking

GoodTherapy | Why are We Adopting Fake News: Tips for Critical Thinking

The growing presence of false and misleading information being disseminated through news outlets, social media, and word of mouth is growing at an alarming rate across the globe (van der Lineen et al., 2020). In order to further explore the concept of “fake news” or misinformation, we must first know the difference between a few other terms. Allcott and Gentzkow (2017) go on to draw the difference between fake news and a few of its closely related cousins, thus, fake news is not:

1. Unintentional reporting mistakes

2. Rumors that do not originate from a particular news article

3. Conspiracy theories (these are, by definition, difficult to verify as true or false, and they are typically originated by people who believe them to be true

4. Satire that is unlikely to be misconstrued as factual

5. False statements made by politicians

6. Reports that are slanted or misleading but not outright false

A popular narrative is that the failure to discern between true and false news is rooted in political motivations. According to psychology researchers Gordan Pennycook and David Rand (2021), “…people are motivated consumers of (mis)information when they engage in ‘identity-protective cognition’ when faced with politically divisive content. This leads them to be overly believing of content that is consistent with their partisan identity and overly skeptical of content that is inconsistent with their partisan identity” (p. 389).

Pennycook and Rand (2021) also stated that:

“One might expect that people share news on social media because they believe it is true. Accordingly, the widespread sharing of false content is often taken as evidence of widespread false beliefs. However, recent work has shown that social media sharing judgments can actually be quite divergent from judgments about accuracy. For example, participants who were asked about the accuracy of a set of headlines rated true headlines as much more accurate than false headlines; but, when asked whether they would share the headlines, accuracy had little impact on sharing intentions – both in the context of political headlines and headlines about COVID-19. As a result, sharing intentions for false headlines were much higher than assessments of their truth, indicating that many people were apparently willing to share content that they could have identified as being inaccurate” (p. 393).

Additionally, many Americans believe that fake news causes political confusion regarding basic facts about current issues regardless of their political affiliation, gender, age, educational level, race, or income (Leeder, 2019).

A wealth of research has been done on why people are susceptible to believing or even seeking out fake news which include two main fields of thought:

1. Confirmation bias (the idea that we seek out information that confirms or justifies our held beliefs) and,

2. a lack critical thinking skills or intellectual curiosity (Brown, 2020 – present).

However, no research has been done on the emotional or psychological connections between those who adopt fake news as true and their interpersonal relationship to shame, vulnerability, and fear. One possibility that has not been addressed by either confirmation bias, or the lack of critical thinking skills is the concept of belonging and fear of disconnection. Since connection to groups provides people with a source of safety (Brown, 2021), it is possible people may align themselves with fake or misleading information as long as it gives them access to a social support group. If we subscribe to Brown’s (2021) research that suggests that when we are in fear we will look for answers and who to blame; then we are arguably even more susceptible to fake news adoption. In times of great cultural and personal crisis, we often turn to our personal connections and social groups for reassurance, guidance, or support (Gottlieb, 2019). However, if we lack access to those connections, as many people have been as a result of Covid-19, then we may arguably turn to virtual spaces for support or even answers. What can be seen here is that the more disconnected we are as a culture, the more likely we may be to seek out answers (even wrong answers) from unreliable places.

Thus, here is a list of tips for analyzing news sources from Benedictine University:

  1. When you open up a news article in your browser, open a second, empty tab. Use that second window to look up claims, author credentials and organizations that you come across in the article.
  2. Check your own search attitude and biases: Is your search language biased in any way? Are you paying more attention to the information that confirms your own beliefs and ignoring evidence that does not?
  3. Fake news spans across all kinds of media – printed and online articles, podcasts, YouTube videos, radio shows, even still images.
  4. As Mad-Eye Moody said in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, “Constant Vigilance!” Always be ready to fact check.
  5. Be suspicious of pictures!: Not all photographs tell truth or unfiltered truth. Images are normally edited or process, but sometimes they are digitally manipulated. Some are born digital. A Google reverse image search can help discover the source of an image and its possible variations.
  6. Even the best researchers will be fooled once in a while. If you find yourself fooled by a fake news story, use your experience as a learning tool.



1) Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social media and fake news in the 2016 election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31, 211–236.

2) Benedictine University Library. (Retrieved: November 19, 2022). Fake news: Develop your own fact-checking skills: Tips and ticks. Retrieved from: https://researchguides.ben.edu/c.php?g=608230&p=4378839

3) Brown, B. (Host). (2020 – Present). Unlocking Us [Audio podcast]. Spotify. https://brenebrown.com/unlockingus/

4) Brown, B. (2021). Atlas of the heart: Mapping meaningful connection and the language of human experience. Random House.

5) Gottlieb, L. (2019). Maybe you should talk to someone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

6) Leeder, C. (2019). How college students evaluate and share “fake news” stories. Library and Information Science Research, 41, 1 – 11. https doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2019.100967

7) Pennycook, G., & Rand, D. G. (2021). The psychology of fake news. Science Direct, 25(5), 388-402.

8) Van der Linden, S., Panagopoulos, C., & Roozenbeek, J. (2020). You are fake news: Political bias in perceptions of fake news. Media Culture & Society, 43(3), 460 – 470. https://doi: 10.1177/0163443720906992

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  • Taylor

    December 14th, 2023 at 8:12 PM

    Hi Kendall,
    I enjoyed the article! It did leave me wondering if you have a positive definition of the term “fake news.” Is fake news simply false information? Or false information pertaining to recent events? It has been really difficult understanding what people mean by the term (as well as the term misinformation, disinformation, malinformation, etc…) and if the term is useful in its application. I ask these questions because I frequently experience individuals using these terms without providing legitimate reasons for why the information in question is false. Sometimes there is reference to another source that someone deems “more credible” that makes an alternative claim. This leads me to think that the term is more often than not being used fallaciously a sort of shorthand appeal to authority. Thanks for the read and allowing me to add my thoughts!

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