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Misinformation: Why facts are now irrelevant

Here's some unsurprising yet depressing news. Many Americans believe a lot of dumb, crazy, destructive, provably wrong stuff. Recent polls have found that nearly half of Donald Trump voters still believe that Hillary Clinton helped run a child sex slave ring in a D.C. pizza joint, and 52 percent are certain Trump won the popular vote. (He lost by over 3 million votes.) Liberals aren't much better. About half of Clinton supporters believe that Russia tampered with vote tallies to help elect Trump - which is simply not true - and many people still think that vaccines cause autism. According to Juan Williams in, it seems that the facts of political life are now subject to partisan interpretation. One survey found that 67 percent of Trump voters say unemployment grew during President Obama's term in office, even though it shrank from 7.8% to 4.6%. For a democratic system based on the consent of fully informed voters, this epidemic of willful ignorance is troubling.

Brian Resnik in says that misinformation is spreading for a reason. As politics has become more divisive and partisan, our political views have become increasingly tied up in our personal identities. We now look at our political allegiance as defining ourselves, the same as nationality, or skin color, or religion. And when someone criticizes or questions our political beliefs, it's perceived as a threat - an attack on one's self that needs to be warded off, regardless of the facts. This is sad, because most people are actually kinder, gentler, more caring than either political party, so identifying with one party or the other really makes people LESS attractive.

This phenomenon isn't limited to low-information voters. Even highly educated people tend to believe stories that bolster their pre-existing beliefs - and those who know a lot about politics are more likely to know whether a story makes liberals or conservatives look bad.

The irony is that the Internet was supposed to "democratize" information, and enable the curious to become better informed about complex issues. Instead, it's made it possible for people to anonymously hide out in Social networks like Twitter and Facebook. The Internet's lack of a filter has made all beliefs appear equally valid, since you can always find on-line "evidence" and opinion to match even the most nonsensical notions, with no agreed-upon authority to differentiate fact from fiction. We truly have entered "a post-truth era."