Bubbles and misinformation (going way beyond confirmation bias)

A so-called American Patriot tries to explain to my Senator that repealing Obamacare has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.

A so-called American Patriot tries to explain to my Senator that repealing Obamacare has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act.

A bunch of people are sharing a Facebook conversation from a guy cheering the repeal of Obamacare while a bunch of acquaintances and strangers try to explain to him that the Affordable Care Act, which is where the guy’s health insurance comes from, is Obamacare. And him not believing them. And many of those people sharing it are asking if this could possibly be real.

Let me answer that for you definitively: it is very real.

I have had the exact same argument with a number of my relatives for years. It doesn’t matter how many times I tell them that their ACA health care is Obamacare, and that if Obamacare is repealed they will lose their health insurance, they don’t believe me. It doesn’t matter how many articles I show them about it. It doesn’t matter if I get other people to explain it, they keep listening to the Obama-hate spewed by friends and acquaintances and Fox News and start talking about how Obamacare must be repealed because it’s a failure.

It’s like the whole birther thing. I don’t know how many times I have explained to my sister that 1) the Obamas aren’t muslim, they’re Methodist, 2) even if they were muslim, what part of religious freedom does she disagree with, 3) Obama was born in Hawaii, it has been settled and proven many times… she falls back into listening to the rantings of the Fox News echo chamber and feels the need to tell me again how much she is looking forward to the day that the Muslim pretender is out of the White House so real Americans can have their country back.

When people talk about how we all live in bubbles, what they’re usually referring to is either confirmation bias or the groupthink effect. We tend to hang out with people who agree with us on many things, we get our news from sources that tend to reinforce our beliefs, et cetera. Recently I linked to an article that showed even which shows we watch for entertainment have polarized: people who tend to vote conservative watch different comedies and dramas and such than people who tend to vote liberal. So our pop culture, presumably, subtly reinforces those worldviews. The notion is that these folks who are voting against their own self-interest are doing so because they never hear information that challenges or contradicts their beliefs, hence the term “low information voter.”

But it isn’t a lack of information.

Some of it is the backfire effect. If your deeply held beliefs are challenged with facts, you hold the beliefs tighter. You rationalize reasons to dismiss the new information. You talk about bias or lies. Just as confirmation bias shields you when you seek information, the backfire effect defends you when the information is given to you unsought, when it challenges you.

There’s a related phenomenon, sometimes referred to as “rumors are sticky” or a subset of the availability cascade effect. In order to debunk a misconception, you have to repeat the misconception as you explain whats wrong with it, right? The repetition of the falsehood actually reinforces it in the mind of the person you’re trying to enlighten. They heard the rumor from several sources, including you, the person who usually disagrees with those sources. Never mind that what you said was, “vaccines don’t cause autism, and here’s the proof” the part that sticks is the part that aligns with information the person already had “vaccines… cause autism.”

Then there’s something some people call the just world hypothesis, the belief that this world is fundamentally just (because, for instance, god is in control) and therefore anything which appears to be unjust that happens to someone must have been deserved. That same notion has a lot of corollary effects, particularly if the religious beliefs underlying the just world hypothesis are of a fundamentalist nature. Because then everything that happens in the real world is seen as proxies for the “true battle” between good and evil happening behind the scenes. And once you’ve gone down that rabbit hole things get really weird. To come back to our original question about Obamacare: they’ve been told again and again that Obama is a tool of the dark forces, so anything associated with him must be evil. Obamacare is obviously one of these bad things, otherwise it wouldn’t have his name on it, right? They don’t have to know what it actually is, so long as they know it’s his.

And that’s how they get people who depend on the Affordable Care Act to vote for and cheer for its repeal.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. I publish an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live in Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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