Why Do People Believe Stupid Things They Read On The Internet?

We'll give grandma a pass. In her day the word "journalism" actually meant something.

We’ll give grandma a pass. In her day the word “journalism” actually meant something.

The question of why people so easily fall for dumb internet hoaxes gets asked a lot, and there’s a lot of reasonably cogent analysis like this WashPo piece, which talks about things like confirmation bias and the inference of legitimacy from context, i.e.: “if my friend shared it, it must be true”. But maybe there’s a simpler explanation.

Maybe People Are Just Stupid

Like most people, when I entered adulthood, I knew pretty much everything. I and my immediate circle had no doubts at all about the fact that – for the most part – people are stupid. As I matured a bit, I of course realized the fallacy of my thinking, and began to give people the credit they deserve, and even acknowledge that maybe it was I who had been stupid in those early years. Not long after this maturing process, the internet came along, and shortly after that, the boom in active users that took place around the time Facebook went public. Now, thanks to social networking and the fact that even your grandma probably has a blog, just about everyone has a voice, and we can get some real insight into just how intelligent the “average person” really is. As a result, I’ve had to do a big metaphorical facepalm, and say to myself “Wow! People really ARE stupid after all!” I derive no pleasure from this observation, in fact, I’m clobbered over the head almost every day with just how goddamn stupid people really are, and it almost hurts.

Democracy Proves It, But The Internet Proves It Better

One of the more glaring examples of just how stupid people really are is the fact that Donald Trump pretty much sealed the deal on his GOP candidacy today. Winston Churchill understood that politics demonstrates how stupid people are years ago; as he famously said: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. But a better example probably presents itself in the form of the idiotic crap that repeatedly gets shared on social media like Facebook. Below are a few examples of the kind of disinformation that gets shared regularly.

Lawn Jockeys Aren’t Racist

You may have seen the Facebook post that went viral over the last few months, about how lawn jockeys aren’t a racist symbol, because they have a rich but not-widely known history as signals along the Underground Railroad. Here’s the most shared version we’re aware of, if you haven’t seen it:


The oldest version we could find was this one, from April 2015:


Presumably this earlier post is lent some cred by the poster saying “a couple of my neighbors where I am an elected official”. Which actually is appropriate; if indeed the person is a politician, it would explain their willingness to bandstand their blithering ignorance, right?

Chemtrails Are Controlling Our Minds

Chemtrails Confirmed!

You know those white trails you see behind jets in the sky? Did you know that they are part of a SECRET GOVERNMENT PLOT TO CONTROL YOUR MIND? Of course they are! Because the best way to perpetrate a secret government plot is to do it as high in the sky as possible and in broad daylight, where as many people as possible can see it. The latest version of this going around is the one below, which was posted on “AnonHQ”. Which means it must be the truth, right? Because people claiming to be a part of of the amorphous and anarchistic non-group called Anonymous have no history of pranksterism, right? Read the actual article, and view the links in it, and if you still think NASA “confessed” anything, never mind. Just continue enjoying your next Trump rally and the smell of the sand wherever your head is buried. Contrails  have been common for decades, and have a very mundane explanation.

Justin Timberlake is Moving To Your Town

Justin Timberlake is moving to...

No, Justin Timberlake is not moving to Ann Arbor.

Please people. Just pay as much attention to the web page you’re reading as you do to the details of the pizza coupons you bought your dinner with. This one comes in many flavors, but is always formatted as [SOME CELEBRITY] Explains Why [HE/SHE] Is Moving To [CITY, STATE]. Sorry, residents of Wapanucka, Oklahoma  you been PWNED. The sites that feature these articles usually have four letters and a number in the URL, and little else to indicate that they are in any way a source of meaningful information.

Ted Cruz Has A Micropenis

Whisper Campaign

Oh. Never mind. This one is probably true.

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