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When was the last time you told a lie? If you can’t remember, I’ll give you a clue. Chances are it was sometime today – based on the fact research shows the average person lies at least once a day.
The point of most lies or false claims seems reasonably straightforward: to deceive others (or oneself) into believing what’s false is true. But there is one puzzling (and often misunderstood) type of lie that doesn’t seem to follow this logic. This is what I call the “lousy lie”.
Studies also show that false claims have a higher chance of being spread compared to mainstream beliefs. And that for people sharing such untruths, it can lead to a tighter social bond with others who also believe the false claim. This is most likely because it requires blind commitment and loyalty to truly believe what others perceive as a lie. And with the speed with which things can spread online, such views can become normalised very quickly.
For all these reasons, it would be misguided to treat lousy lying as a “cognitive failure”, as it clearly serves several social functions. To deal with this type of lying, then, fact checking would ideally be combined with efforts to have prominently respected figures from the outsider groups that help perpetuate lousy lies to educate and myth bust false claims. Though, of course, this wouldn’t be easy.
This is important given that, as Twitter and Facebook have intensified their fact checking, millions of social media users have moved to alternative platforms – like Newsmax, Parler and Rumble. And in these online spaces the lies of public leaders can flow freely and disappear into acceptance.