Why do we believe any old nonsense on social media? And share it?

Hoaxes, warnings, memes, we share them all

There has just been another outbreak of ‘All Facebook accounts have been hacked’ messages and posts (well there has been among my friends anyway).  Why do so many people believe and share them?  And other hoaxes, scams and clickbait? Some may seem plausible, like the legal mumbo-jumbo in the infamous Facebook privacy message (where people posted a statement claiming ownership of all their own posts and photos), but others are clearly fake aren’t they?  Are you really going to win a luxury car for sharing a FB post? Well, it doesn’t do any harm, does it, just in case …….

But why do we believe them in the first place?

Most of these messages and posts come from friends and acquaintances, which is why we are programmed to believe them.  Yet common sense tells us they can’t possibly be true.  So what makes us accept them? Several reasons:

  1. We simply cannot question everything that happens to us every day.  Our brains would be on overload.  We can’t start the day by checking if our breakfast milk is poisonous or if the brakes on our car are still working.  We don’t assume that the receptionist at work is a homicidal maniac.  We just have to trust things in our daily life.
  2. There’s safety in numbers.  Still today, humans are tribal and generally feel safer as part of a group.  Even a group that accepts hoaxes and scams!
  3. No one likes a clever clogs.  Being right is no consolation if the tribe boots you out because you pointed out that their story was nonsense. Much safer to keep quiet and not get eaten by a predator or killed by another tribe.
  4. We like to trust people, it gives us a warm fuzzy feeling.  Being sceptical all the time doesn’t make us feel good or happy.
  5. People like to be helpful.  Sharing warnings, even ludicrous ones, makes us feel useful and gives that warm fuzzy feeling again.

So what’s the problem?

When we share these posts, we’re often sharing links to scammers or viruses.  That’s not so helpful, is it?  We are promoting lies or half-truths, which may make people think less of us and adds to a general sense of danger in the world. If the post has already been around for a while and we have come late to the party, others who have seen it several times already and know that it’s fake, will just get irritated.  And we’ll look silly.  None of this helps our image if we have business  contacts online.

So if a post looks suspect, check it out – Google, Snopes, Hoaxslayer are all good resources, and may help you keep  your reputation intact.  Just don’t correct people – nobody likes a clever clogs!

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