The Surprising Reason Why Fake News are so Popular

A common hazard of openly identifying as a psychic is the fact people will assume you’re gullible in other areas of life, beyond spirituality. My unusual experience has taught me a lot about how fake news are spread, who they target, and why.

Photo: Author

Where are fake news a thing?

Contrary to what you may think, it isn’t only the occultist community that has to deal with conspiracy theorists and snake oil sellers. That is why I am stepping out of my echo-chamber to talk to a wider audience here — and possibly risking hostility from sceptics in the meantime.

In fact, I love sceptic people. Scepticism is a skill we should all strive to cultivate, especially now in the era of misinformation and anti-science movements. But learning this skill can be a lot more difficult than you are willing to admit.

Healthy scepticism is a constant exercise, requires hard work, and goes way beyond parroting a mainstream consensus on [lack of] belief. It takes more than simply saying “I don’t believe ghosts exist”. Well, that is an easy thing to say, isn’t it? Chances are you have nothing to lose when you decide not to believe in ghosts. Try “I don’t believe villains exist”. Can you come onboard now? A lot of people cannot, because if they start feeling sceptic about the existence of villains (or in other words, scapegoats), this automatically means there can be no heroes either. And perhaps more importantly, they can’t pretend to be the heroes of their own narrative via wishful thinking.

Fake news thrives among people who aren’t willing to let go of delusions of grandeur, saviour complexes, and so on — and these people are everywhere, even in atheistic circles. It is very alluring to share stories you wish were true, and shut down any kind of fact checking or constructive criticism, when you feel like the naked truth presents a threat to your ego. Note that I haven’t even mentioned the word “intelligence” or any of its synonyms here. It is a fallacy that only unintelligent people believe fake news. It has been scientifically proven that social belonging is often preferred over hard facts and data — especially by people who put on a façade of “rational and unemotional”. Guess what, I’m a psychic. I even openly admit it. I can see through a lot of things, including people’s inaccurate self-evaluation whenever we talk, whether they like it or not. Just because they claim to be on top of their emotional responses, that doesn’t make it true or impress me in the slightest.

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

If you constantly look for instant gratification, this is a red flag.

If you go on a rabbit hole about what is honesty and what is deception, you’ll probably come to the conclusion that you lie to yourself on a daily basis. I am not saying this in order to normalise deception — in fact I’m a firm believer in the art of facing reality head first, or at least attempting to do so — but there is something to be said about how common it is to choose fantasy over objectivity. It is natural, even human, to look for solace in escapism whenever we lose control over the smallest things in life. But natural or not, like all things, it’s always a good idea to put limits to it. [Insert here your favourite philosophical quote about how balance is healthier than extremism].

Self-deception can be a coping mechanism for when things aren’t the way we expected. Maybe the weather is less than perfect on your wedding day, but you decide to tell yourself “sure it isn’t bad” and go take photos outside anyway — ultimately, you lied to yourself, but this prevented you from missing out on eternalising a special moment. A bit of discomfort, coupled with a homeopathic dose of magical thinking, worked just fine.

Another story entirely is when the world is less than perfect (say, there is a deadly pandemic. Imagine that!), and certain people start telling themselves “sure it isn’t bad” — or “as bad”, bonus points for blaming the media or the illuminati or whatever your chosen scapegoat — in order to feel more in control (or “in the know”) than they actually are. Ultimately, this is an issue of unaddressed feelings, not lack of logic. We don’t seek dissociation from the cruel world because it doesn’t make logical sense; instead, we do that because we are afraid of exposing our emotional vulnerability. So you can’t solve it with logic. You have to tackle the feeling — yes, even with people who don’t want to admit they have feelings.

The difference between the wedding example and the pandemic denier is that the former is in control of the magical thinking; the latter is being controlled by it. There is something similar to be said [in very general terms — a topic for another post maybe] about the difference between a magician and a madman.

Writers of fake news tend to be extremist. This is not a coincidence.

When confronted with a dreadful scenario out of their control, a lot of people enter a vicious cycle of living in an eternal “now”, seeking one piece of instant gratification after the other. After all, the bigger picture that spans a longer period of time is too scary.

Is there a better way to look for instant gratification than by engaging in black-and-white thinking? It certainly simplifies this big, complex, scary, overwhelming reality into bite-size bits of information that you can handle a lot easier. This is often a compromise! I have seen a lot of intelligent people, who up to 2019 were very able to handle nuance, turn into huge scaremongers with a strict tunnel vision by the middle of 2020. I do not think their IQ diminished. I believe they are conscious that they are giving up their critical thinking temporarily— a compromise in order to restore some inner peace and emotional stability right now. But maybe they’ll get mad at me for even saying that. I have ripped their “rational person” mask from their faces, and exposed their helpless fragile core for everyone to see. Oh, the tragedy!

I’m sorry for exposing the real issue lurking beneath the surface, and for possibly making a lot of readers uncomfortable. If there was a win/win option, trust me, I would go for it. But sometimes, as the saying goes, “hurt people hurt other people”, and will continue to do so unless they are forced to stop. These people’s compulsion for justifying their behaviour with more and more lies (or half-truths exaggerated to the point they become lies) is nothing more than egotistic defensiveness. It is not only hurting others (who fall prey to the misinformation), but also these “creative journalists” themselves, since this is doing nothing to take them out of their misery. Sometimes, you need to touch the wound before you work on healing it, even if it hurts on the short term. Don’t shoot the messenger, I am trying to help.

If in doubt, just keep this in mind: is it really worth it to keep running away from that one scary shadow? What if I told you this endless stream of instant gratification is only prolonging your pain, and it wouldn’t hurt nearly as much to face the monster and be done with it? Seek help, maybe start here (or your local equivalent). You’re worthy of it, and there is no shame at all. Hey, we’re social beings. We are not hard-wired to deal with everything on our own — or human beings wouldn’t look for each other in the first place.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

So, where do we go from here? Is there an answer? If not, are there steps towards an answer?

Take a moment to acknowledge and accept your true nature.

I’m sure a lot of gurus are repeating this piece of advice, both the legit ones and those who don’t actually understand it. But broken record aside, there is wisdom in it.

First of all, let’s recap:

  • fake news followers aren’t necessarily “dumb” — they’re just desperate to regain some control when faced with a scary situation;
  • fake news spreaders aren’t necessarily “evil” either. There are no comic book villains in the real world. A lot of them are just desperate to maintain a façade of tough guy (or intellectual guru) instead of addressing their vulnerable feelings;
  • you will not see emotionally mature people shutting down fact checks on fake news, regardless of the religion they follow, their hobbies, political views, or how many quirks they have;

At first sight, it may seem like there is an abysmal difference between religious people who believe in magic, and non-practicing people who would like to think of themselves as “rational and down-to-earth”. Our knee-jerk reaction when thinking of a gullible person [who will potentially believe fake news] tends to be, “well, mystics are dumb”. Yeah, right, tell that to the Dalai Lama. In reality, naivité is not related to the nature of your beliefs, but rather, the power they have over you. And this extends beyond the stereotypical meaning of “belief” (religious faith), to also encompass things like political beliefs, conspiracy theories, obsessive compulsion, and paranoia.

Usually, we are less likely to feel threatened by others’ scrutiny of our assumptions, when these assumptions were not part of our identity. It’s easier to separate your pride and honour from a piece of information you hold true, when it was never personal to begin with. And the less radical you are with such beliefs, the less weight they will have on your social “face” — so it becomes easier to maintain a healthy level of distance from them, and ultimately open up to the possibility of growing and learning more (or changing your mind if needs be).

A lot of the learning involved in how to reconnect with your true nature has to do with addressing your inner child. You know, the facet of yourself that exists since childhood, and simply “is”, effortlessly. We get so caught up in affirming and reaffirming identities via the way we dress, worship, think, act, what we are deliberately open or closed to, etc, as if life was an eternal highschool. We put so much effort into these things that we forget to wonder “why”. If an identity is so high-maintenance, and you’re so afraid of losing it unless you defend it very fiercely, then why even make it part of your daily life? Why not only “wear” it for special occasions, just like a high-maintenance formal attire is worn every once in a blue moon? I don’t know about you, but if I can avoid pointless stress in my daily routine, I do. The world is pretty unsettling on its own already.

This is food for thought, of course. I don’t have all the answers. I just ask questions that could be helpful. Who are you? I guarantee you aren’t your beliefs, your style, your habits, your culture or even your career. These things are important, but they’re like clothing — ideally you should be able to remove them and still exist in all your uniqueness and potential. And just like clothing, they are things we acquire. Nobody is born fully dressed. Dig a bit deeper and you’ll rediscover things you have been either ignoring or taking for granted all along.

Your “naked truth” can be a lot of things, depending on how your self-esteem is doing. But regardless of your feelings about it, this essential “you” cannot and will not go away. You can hide it under layers and layers of constructed identity, and you can totally neglect it when it feels like a boring thing nobody would like and share on social media. But why sacrifice your entire sense of self for others’ approval? What does that approval even mean, anyway? I guarantee you a lot of these followers you want and influencers you aspire to be like are equally hurt and anxious about the world. (I don’t just mean the quest for attention on Instagram. The opinionated “armchair experts” on Reddit and Facebook are just as guilty of it). Maybe a bit of authenticity, on your own, not for anyone else to see, is worth a shot. Turn it into a daily habit first thing in the morning, and soon you’ll see that your need to defend “news” that are too good or too grim to be true will start to diminish.

By all means, share your selfies. Share your thoughts, opinions, wit and wisdom with the world. It’s fun, and we all need these alternative ways to socialise, given the current scenario. Just avoid falling for the idea that the messages you share are somehow connected to your inner truth. Nobody’s inner truth is that flamboyant or inflammatory. Nobody’s wisdom is set in stone either (isn’t life a series of new discoveries?). If you let go of some of these opinions at some point, you won’t stop existing or being worthy of praise. It is almost like a change in wardrobe — the person wearing the new clothes will look just as fabulous as before, but in a different (hopefully healthier) way.

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Psychic and spirit worker based in Ireland, friend of the Picts. I don't read minds. I don't change minds. I don't sugarcoat. Take my message or leave it.

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Meron Nic Cruithne

Psychic and spirit worker based in Ireland, friend of the Picts. I don't read minds. I don't change minds. I don't sugarcoat. Take my message or leave it.