Well, we’ve survived another April Fools Day in the world of news, and this one was harder than ever for the mainstream media, when even a fairly normal story can be accused of being Fake News. A couple of points were repeated across social media yesterday:
How can you come up with a prank when the truth is stranger than fiction?
Is April 1st the only day of the year when people question what they read?
April Fools Day news stories are good for teaching us all a lesson about how we perceive news. If we ‘get’ that it’s a joke straightaway, we are pleased. If we aren’t sure, we double check, we question, and we investigate. These are all good habits when trying to avoid media bias, or falling for Fake News. Lastly, we might be fooled; in this case, we are forced to re-evaluate our reading process, to understand where we went wrong, and to confront our perceptions of truth. In essence: we have to change our minds.
There was an interesting piece in the Observer today, which was about how difficult it can be to change other people’s minds; you can read it here if you are so inclined. This extract got me thinking:
Lecturing turns people off, I get that. In our echo-chambers, we are nearly always preaching to the choir anyway. But listing facts and busting myths? If those stop working, and just serve to convince people of the opposite, what hope is there?
It is entirely sensible that statements presented as facts are questioned, and that statistics are investigated rather than taken at face value. We can’t just believe people blindly because they have used one of those pesky numbers in their argument. That is the sort of thinking that gave us the Brexit bus. Even if numbers are accurate, seeing them without context makes them unreliable. There is a reason why people speak of “lies, damn lies and statistics”.
But this piece from the Observer suggests that we will cling to misconceptions in the face of actual proof, because being consistent is more important that admitting that we were ‘wrong’. I suspect this is true, but it shouldn’t be. Why don’t we reframe this one? We are talking about opinions, so really it’s not about having been wrong, it’s more about having changed our minds. And that’s fine, right? There’s no judgement with a change of opinion. And deciding to change your mind is different to ‘backing down’ in an argument- by making the decision yourself, you are in control of the process. You aren’t admitting defeat; you are simply moving forward.
The real problem is when we are so sure of our opinions that we perceive them as facts. How can we shake this habit? How can we prevent a confirmation bias from taking over everything we see and hear?
Education is the obvious first step- in terms of encouraging critical thinking skills and learning about how the media works. But the biggest obstacle is in our own heads. We are a nation divided at the moment, and we cannot hope to come together again unless we are all willing to confront our perceptions and open our minds a little bit.
I’m still firmly Team Remain FYI. For what it’s worth, I still believe that Brexit is a poor choice, and that there are very difficult times coming our way. But- and here’s the crux of it- if it all works out fine, I will admit that I was wrong.
Some of the Leavers seem to think life will be like this after Brexit:
Many of my fellow Remainers think life will be like this:
I suspect neither will be true. If/when that’s the case, will people admit that they were wrong? Will anyone else be willing to say that they have changed their minds?
I’m going to leave you with this little pearl of wisdom, from Enid Blyton’s The Naughtiest Girl in the School:
“I wonder where you got that idea from? I mean, the idea that it’s feeble to change your mind once it’s made up. That’s a wrong idea, you know. Make up your mind about things, by all means – but if something happens to show that you are wrong, then it is feeble not to change your mind, Elizabeth. Only the strongest people have the pluck to change their minds, and say so, if they see they have been wrong in their ideas.”