Misinformation, Propaganda, And Narrative Bias

Whether it’s psychology’s halo effect, or behavioral economic’s anchoring bias, the order that we receive information impacts how we judge all future information. Put simply, for humans, first impressions matter greatly to all our future perceptions. This is important to understand because human beings are subject to what is known as narrative bias. We make sense of the world by placing information into a story format. So the first bits of information we consume on a given subject tend to overwhelmingly impact the story we construct in our heads on the subject.

These stories help us build a sense of our own reality. Reality is our sense of truth built upon our experiences of the world. It evolves over time. And in a community setting, our shared stories create a shared sense of reality. A common understanding of what is true and what is false.

So our first impressions in life fundamentally shape our future worldview. And our worldview plays a significant role in how we approach all future information we receive. When we receive information that challenges our worldview, we tend to view it with hostility because it breaks down our sense of reality. It fundamentally challenges our sense of truth.

Our modern political discourse would benefit greatly if we stopped to understand this simple fact. Information doesn’t choose sides, people do.

The Internet Alters Our Shared Reality

With the invention of the internet, the 24 hour news cycle, and the mobile phone, we are now constantly bombarded with a constant stream of new information. And the ease of access we now have to global information creates an incentive to be the first to set societal impressions. Because there is power in controlling the public narrative. And by controlling the flow of this digital information, you control the first impressions that shape our shared sense of reality. This enhances the importance of establishing first impressions in the digital age.

In a time where first impressions mean so much, as a society, we’ve lost the significance of “honesty”. We now worry about misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and a sense of dishonest narrative framing. But we worry about narrative framing without really understanding the underlying rationale behind the worry.

A major part of the problem is our poor understanding of shared reality. It’s built from a diverse spectrum of thought and is not a binary structure.

Worldview’s Aren’t Binary

In a world with so much information, we struggle with narratives that challenge our worldview and sense of reality. It shouldn’t be surprising that with 8 billion people on the planet, the human experience would be diverse enough to create multiple senses of reality. ie: As someone that grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC, my life experiences will be radically different from someone that grew up in a small town in rural Alabama. My sense of truth and worldview likely does not perfectly align with someone from a rural town.

The narratives we construct from our life experiences, combined with the information presented to us on the web may be completely different. That doesn’t make the information we receive fake, or false. The variance in information relates to our individual understanding of life and our human experience.

There is also a difference between fundamental ignorance, misleading for personal gain, and using the truth as a means to harm a persons worldview. When we present someone with information that challenges or breaks their sense of reality and worldview, we should think of this as a narrative violation.

Misinformation, Disinformation, Malinformation

Instead, as a society, we struggle to reconcile our sense of individual reality into a universal worldview. It forces us to build a universal understanding of life. This is nearly impossible to do when the human experience is so diverse and fundamentally individual. And as a result, we attack the information that harms our worldview, stating it’s false, fabricated, or intentionally misleading. We do this because of our predisposition for narrative bias. It forces us to blame agnostic information as a way to reconcile our broken reality.

Our narrative bias creates a binary approach to information in that it’s either right or wrong. Either it confirms our worldview or it’s a lie and intentional deception. And in our modern digital discourse, this binary battle manifests as Misinformation, Disinformation, and Malinformation. Represented in the chart below.

Image Source: Brookings.edu

Blaming Information Impact Narrative Bias

By blaming information, we develop poor expectations for how a shared and communal reality is actually built. Rather than acknowledging that each human being has a unique set of experiences that build an individual worldview, we develop us versus them communities. A right side and a wrong side.

In truth, information picks no sides. It simply exists. It is our human interpretation and our rationalization of this information that picks sides. We approach all new information by trying to fit it into our worldview and through this, we add polarization. By viewing information as right or wrong, we place blame rather than seeking to understand the underlying worldview that influence the categorization of information.

In doing so, we tend to talk past each other in modern discourse rather than seeking to understand and build a consensus worldview. By not acknowledging the impact of culture, experiences and our individualized interpretations of our reality, we find ourselves subject to narrative manipulation.

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