Fakes about the coronavirus and beyond: why we believe false information

With the epidemic of coronavirus in our lives came and infogame. The word also refers to the rumors, panic stories, fakes, and humor that accompany the epidemic, and in some countries — and even precede, according to Lifehacker.

Фейки о коронавирусе и не только: почему мы верим неправдивой информации

Photo: shutterstock

We all hear and know well: “Close all Windows and doors. Tonight black helicopters will spray the city from above disinfection for people it’s dangerous on the streets not to go. Infa hundred percent — the wife of the military from the military unit told a secret”.

We perceive the dissemination of panic rumors and fake news is rather negative for us is as much a disease of society, like smallpox, measles or coronavirus — a disease of the body.

Undoubtedly, the fake news, rumors and gossip are derived from the panic, especially in a situation when the level of trust in official institutions that are responsible for the health and life of the citizens plummets.

But let’s look at the situation from the other side. Is the mass distribution of a variety of texts during this and all other previous epidemics, and natural disasters, only the result of wrong behavior? What if we have before us an important psychological tool, acquired by a person in the course of evolution, only in the current situation visible “from the inside”?

Great (no exaggeration) anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar known to many as the discoverer of the “Dunbar number”. In this he was helped by years of research different APE communities.

Our siblings are very social animals, especially chimpanzees. They form a group of “allies” that support each other, including protection from predators and others of their own kind. Pay for help and a way to maintain social ties within a “support group” is grooming (scratching, stroking, eating lice).

It’s a pleasure to stand out the endorphins, and the chimp is quiet high. However, there is a fly in the ointment. Grooming (i.e., clean maintenance of social relationships) takes a lot of time, up to 20 percent of waking hours. This is necessary to maintain social bonds within their group of support — it will help when it comes to predators.

Thus, the maximum size of the group of chimps that put the huskies one monkey, because they are her friends (well, you understand), and 80 individuals.

But human ancestors broke through this ceiling. Simultaneously with the size of the brain grew and limits of social groups of hominids (on archaeological data). Accordingly, the time to grooming, and more complex, our ancestors also needed more. And how then to get food? There is a contradiction.

Dunbar suggested the following. Along with increasing group size and complexity of grooming occurring language. But not just as a means of communication, and how the grooming of the second order — a social mechanism to maintain relationships with everyone.

It turns out that the grooming of the second order group size can be increased.

Why do people support groups have become more and grooming more difficult — it is not quite clear. In primates, this number depends on the increase in the number of predators. More enemies — more grooming (if chimpanzees are hard to scare, they begin to desperately groenhout with each other).

Maybe it’s the increasing number of enemies — early Homo, in addition to lions, threatened the same people, just strangers. But anyway, the group has grown and adoption of social relations through language all increased. The average size of the “support groups” in modern humans — about 150 people — and is the “number of Dunbar”.

Modern man still spends his grooming 20 percent of the time from the active state to the day. It is phatic speech — communication, not for transmitting information, but for fun and to maintain social contacts: “Hey! Looking good, shall we go have coffee? Have you heard that said about the amendments to the Constitution? But Masha awfully fat…”

Dunbar and his colleagues studied how time is spent in gossip, the inhabitants of Western Europe and North America. And another equally famous anthropologist Marshall Salins in his “stone age Economics” described aboriginal‑gatherers of Australia, who are giving the gossip a very large percentage of his time — even at the expense of direct food production.

And here we come to a very important point. Why the modern man always to discuss, “what do you say Princess Marja Alekseevna”? Where does this social mechanism?

Gossip, rehashing information the people around us, and rumors about the events of the big world we unite. Moreover, the greater the external threat, the stronger the need “social glue” (greetings, greetings, gossip) within the group. It unites us and allows you to check “if I”.

Dunbar students measured topics, spontaneous conversations between people in 30 minutes with everyday situations during your vacation. In each segment were the topics “Family”, “Politics” and the like. But, in fact, the gossip, that is discussing the events with other people and their surroundings observed paid about 65 percent of talk time. And correlation with gender and age there was observed (in connection with which the image of the old “gossip girl” should be forgotten immediately and forever).

On the first place among these spontaneous gossip was search tips, and the third is the discussion of free riders (literally — “free riders”), that is, those who want to benefit from society without giving anything in return. This includes scammers, and those who do not pay taxes, but teaches children to a public school.

According to the ingenious reasoning of Dunbar, because people pay such close attention to the “free-rider” those that destroy the confidence and threaten the stability of society as a whole. That’s why the rumors keep going back to free riders, often overestimating them coming from danger.

It is tempting to look at the situation in which we all now find ourselves, on this side. The epidemic is a threat not only to the threat of infection, but also the disintegration of social ties, the so — called social atomization. More and more countries encourage their citizens to go into voluntary (and sometimes not entirely voluntary) quarantine. As a result, many of us isolated itself: the lectures do not read, do not sit in bars, do not go to rallies.

Of course, Facebook, Twitter and “Vkontakte” has not been closed (yet). But not all of our social connections are social networks and messengers, and, even if virtual contacts play in our lives a big role, we still need personal contact and durable. And the breakdown of communication causes social tension.

How to cope with this lack of contact? The response on the part of macro-evolution is very simple: to strengthen the grooming, that is to increase the number of gossip, or the amount of informal communication between people about what is happening in the world. View from this side of informal communication during the Great terror: repressions go on and on, you don’t know what will happen to you tomorrow, today sit up all night waiting for his arrest — however, people whisper, quiet but telling political jokes, although well aware that this is a dangerous act (5 to 10 years was given for “anti-Soviet jokes”).

The American historian Robert Thurston asked this question: why in the second half of the 1930s, Soviet citizens risked their freedom for the sake of jokes. The fact that the fear of the state machine of repression destroying the trust between people, communication through humorous texts not only reduced fear, but also restored the confidence.

In the current situation part of this informal communication is fake news, coming from all sides: from the worst (“the government admits that the cases of hundreds of thousands”) to hilarious (“Masturbation saves the world from the virus”). But why fake? Think about it: a “young doctor from Russia Yuriy Klimov working at the hospital in Wuhan, called friends and told them how to escape from the virus”, “don’t buy bananas, they get infected”, “close the Windows, disinfect the city” — all this “good advice”.

True or false, these texts are distributed in order to alert a friend, relative, neighbor. These are the same tips which constantly exchange the Americans in the study of gossip, the group of Dunbar (and want to remind you that good advice was the most popular content of informal conversations of Americans).

Fake news offer to respond immediately to danger is extremely challenging, and so they become successful “transgressors” — they have the ability to quickly cross all boundaries. The frightened mother quickly sends the information to the parent chat to all strangers simply because she feels she has a moral right to do so.

Therefore, it fakes you not only to quickly “gum up” old “support group”, but also create new ones. So, in the evening of March 20 right in front of the group unfamiliar with each other people began to discuss fake about the coronavirus, quickly met and decided to go to “save” your home. That is, more risk — more social ties, just like chimpanzees.

Many of you probably noticed that in the last two days almost of iron heard reports about scams that allegedly under the guise of “disinfectants against coronavirus” housebroken. As well as a discussion of those people who, being put into quarantine, escape from it and thus threaten the public good.

The first is misinformation and the second stories of real people, dissatisfied with the conditions of forced isolation. But both these stories — this is the discussion of free riders, parasites on the public distress. In the gossip we are particularly focusareas that threatens the structure of society, and may therefore fake, and the real stories spread so quickly.

In conclusion it should be said that there are fake positive news. For example, photos of swans and dolphins, who returned to empty Venetian canals, fake . As well as stories about the elephants that were drunk on corn wine and fell dead drunk in tea fields in China. Maybe the authors first publishing these posts, and want to acquire likes (swans in the canals of Venice received a million hits). But the people most likely to massively distribute them for other reasons: to improve the emotional state of others — that is, for the purpose of social grooming.

As reported ForumDaily:

  • A new virus was discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. In 2020 it covers all continents except Antarctica. On 11 March, the President of the United States Donald trump has imposed a ban on entry into the United States from the EU. The ban came into force on Friday, March 13, and will last at least 30 days. In particular, it will affect people visiting the Schengen area for the last 14 days.
  • On 13 March, the tramp of coronavirus introduced in the U.S. nationwide state of emergency.
  • March 11, the who declared the situation with coronavirus pandemic, covering more than 110 countries. With symptoms COVID-19 caused by a coronavirus, can be found here.
  • The virologist’s advice on how to protect themselves from infection — the link.
  • Using the panic in the society because of the epidemic, the scammers have come up with several schemes to get victims ‘ personal data and money. The most common ones can be found here.
  • Panicked due to emergency, Americans are buying up large quantities of toilet paper, but can’t explain why it during an outbreak.
  • Trump has signed a law granting paid leave due to the coronavirus. Who can count on paid holidays, please click here.
  • All the news about the coronavirus please refer to our special projects.



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