What is social proof
Keyword: social proof
When reality loses
A democracy is in a 'post-factual state' when politically opportune, but de facto misleading assertions instead of facts serve as the basis for political debate, opinion-forming and legislation. This is how Vincent F. Hendricks and Mads Vestergaard from the University of Copenhagen put it in their deserving bookPost factual. The new reality in times of bullshit, fake news and conspiracy theories. (P. 17) They investigate the mechanisms that allow us to see or feel something as true under the conditions of the attention economy.
The attention economy plays a key role here. Individual attention is a very limited resource. The more I feed my attention with questionable information and alternative facts, the less resource there is for realizing reality. There is a fierce battle for our attention, especially on the Internet.Indeed, the currency of the Internet is attention. In the competition for attention, the posts have to outdo each other in terms of linguistic harshness, scandalous tone and aggressiveness. (Wolfgang Lieb).
Our brain's reward system plays a central role in gathering information. Just as it helped our prehistoric ancestors to collect fruits, seeds and mushrooms and to hunt wild boars, it also controls the way we absorb information. If you want to be the subject of our attention, you have to make the reward system particularly attractive. The Swedish health researcher Hans Rosling speaks of a “desire for drama” in this context. (Rosling p. 27) This desire is particularly evidentBullshit, fake news and conspiracy theories served. Compared to these colorful fruits, the bulky brushwood of verifiable facts hardly stands a chance, neither with the speed nor with the intensity of the spread.
But the reward system sends us into another trap: the kick it gives us doesn't last long. This creates the need for additional stimulants. Their suppliers are tabloid media, (a) social networks and alternative media, which are in constant competition for the brightest and most aggressive messages.
The ability to manipulate human attention through the reward system is not a new phenomenon. On the other hand, the type of acceptance is characteristic of the current state of public discourse: that it has become legitimate for large segments of the public to be able to present different versions of reality as alternative facts. When the second Gulf War was founded, the American government still felt compelled to present the world with cumbersome “evidence”, even if it was based on misinformation. Under the conditions of post-factual politics, however, the interest in factual justification is greatly reduced. Acting with mere assertions, which no longer have to be verifiable, but only have to correspond to a gut feeling, has found great social acceptance. Even more: The great attraction of the post-factual is precisely the emancipation from reality and experience.
To the extent that post-truth symptoms and conditions become firmly established, democracy is eroding. The ideal subject for totalitarian leadership is not the staunch Nazi or the staunch communist, but rather people for the distinction between fact and fiction (in other words the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (in other words the Standards of thought) no longer exist. (Hannah Arendt, Elements and Origins of Total Domination).Hannah Arendt's sentence is quoted many times on the web, but without an exact page number. I got the German edition edited by Arendt himself to read. I can't find the quote there. The sentence is quoted everywhere on the web without reference to the source. If, as an exception, there is more specific information, it refers to the English text, which I do not have to hand as a book. I trust that it is not fictitious (like the often circulated alleged Merkel quote about "market-conforming democracy"). It is already a cross with the facts!
For further reading:
Hendricks, Vincent F. and Vestergaard Mads: Post factual. The new reality in times of bullshit, fake news and conspiracy theories. Munich 2018 (Blessing)
Rosling, Hans and Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling: Factfulness. How we learn to see the world as it really is, Berlin 2018 (Ullstein)
Oxford Dictionaries: post-truth
Schaeffer, Ute: Fake instead of fact. Munich 2018
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