What was once called ‘over the fence gossip’ has – thanks to Social Media- become an epidemic of stupidity, untruths and conspiracy theories. But why? 

Facebook, Twitter, QAnon and many other “news” sources (that are not news but conjecture and propaganda) have opened the floodgates. They spread un-proven, non-peer-reviewed information, which includes absolute nonsense.

The truth is out there
The truth is out there

Peer review

“Peer Review” has been reduced to trolling and commenting on posts. In a Darwinian way, it has become the battle for the loudest and most voluminous voice. Whoever spreads the gossip the quickest, the loudest and most often wins. At least in their minds, which both calms and ironically stimulates their unrest.

However, the main reason for this phenomenon is Cognitive Dissonance. Put simply, this refers to the ‘mental anguish’ that can be created when an individual is confronted with dealing with two conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or values. When challenged, they become conflicted, presenting as anger, unease, discomfort or similar negative feelings. This not only can lead to hostility within oneself but also with others. The Anti-Vaxx argument is a perfect example, particularly in our region. 

How we grow beliefs and hold them is dependant on the information we receive and how we process it – if we actually can. This can be applied to any issue. For example, the homophobe simply cannot accept that homosexuals should enjoy the same freedoms, rights, and respect as other members of society. The tension that can arise in such individuals can be very destructive and cause internal conflict and conflict with those who hold a different view. Regardless of the information that should suggest otherwise, changing their opinions becomes insurmountable. 

Those holding views that can be proven incorrect feel less threatened or uncomfortable when they find their ‘tribe’ who agree with them -regardless of the facts. They reject the facts, the science, and peer-reviewed professional research. To minimise discomfort, they avoid exposing themselves to it or “explain away”, quoting information from Facebook, QAnon or any number of un-moderated places. So gossip becomes their fact. ‘Faux’ science gives them justification for their views. Outright lies can replace common sense or facts.

Minimising discomfort also explains, for example, why some people will only watch Sky News. They nest where they won’t be challenged and where they hear the sorts of messages that support their particular cognitive mindset.

Cognitive dissonance

It also explains why some with Cognitive Dissonance repeat untruths to feed their dissonance. An example would be in the case around vaccination: “The Govt. is forcing me to have the vaccination”. No one is forcing anyone to do anything in this sphere. People have the choice to be vaccinated or not. Their so-called ‘freedoms’ are not being taken away from them. However, it may mean choosing whether to remain employed in a particular industry. For example, healthcare workers must be vaccinated due to their close contact with vulnerable people. The choice is theirs. If they choose not to, they need to find another job. Unfortunate for them but they make the choice that determines that.

So how can Cognitive Dissonance be resolved? Often it simply can’t. Those who might suggest it can theorise it can be decided by those affected by blindly believing whatever they want to believe. Regardless, it is mentally stressful for people holding contradictory ideas. It can always be minimised. We all have some degree of dissonance informing our belief systems. Those only become a social problem when it erupts in conflict – either verbal or physical. Sadly we are seeing far too much of that in our social structures throughout the world. The ‘I am right and you are wrong’ conflict. We all have biases. We all have inconsistencies. We all have our own views. 

The point of this little article is simply to suggest we go about our lives without inflicting our anger, sense of righteous justice, and violence in whatever form it might take on others.

That is not to suggest we can’t advocate for change. I am merely suggesting we drop the ‘warrior’ from ‘Social Warrior’. Wars never end well.

This is a personal view, not necessarily shared by BayFm.

Michael Mac