Human nature to blame for fake news

MIT student Soroush Vosoughi is the co-author of a study out of MIT’s Media Lab that discovered that false news not only spreads faster, farther and deeper than the real thing but that the reason for the wider spread isn’t bots. So what’s the cause? Why does this phenomenon transcend borders and sections of society?

Probably human nature, the researchers suggested after conducting one of the most comprehensive studies on Twitter yet, in both the time frame and the number of Tweets included. It was noted that true stories took six times longer to spread to 1,500 people compared to false ones.

Their findings around human nature are broad and need other researchers to pursue focused research studies into the relationship between the dimensions of human nature and the spread of fake news. Establishing causality might be a challenge but the least that can be done is to find associations and infer from that.

The concept of “human nature” has been debated by psychologists and anthropologists and they have arrived at two different conclusions. Questions have been asked since antiquity on what makes humans human? Why are primates infrahuman and not human? Can infrahumans mutate into humans?

While asserting the existence of a nature common to all humans, psychology has questioned the existence of “essential” differences between humans and infrahumans. Anthropology, on the contrary, has distinguished humans from infrahumans but has entertained serious doubts concerning “essential character(s)” universal among humans. In short, both disciplines have tended to deny the existence of a generic human nature. An examination of the psychological dimensions of human nature must take these two positions into context.

We can postulate that uniquely human nature is a product of “culture”. From this assumption, we can cluster human nature, based on culture,  into three dimensions namely;

  1. The capacity for symbolization (a human cognitive function).
  2. The basic motives.
  3. The common personality factors (“needs”,  “values”, “ego processes”, and ” defence mechanisms”.

Internet penetration across the globe has given rise to a hyper-connected world characterised by seamless communication and interoperability of devices. Social media has reduced the six degrees of separation to about two.

The ordinary man or woman on the street has now been empowered to transmit information at scale to any part of the world. With this power comes responsibility. Just like our societies of yesteryear, it is necessary and sufficient that we define online human nature as a consequence of the culture developed or developing on the internet. Has the interoperability of humans and machines enhanced our capacity for symbolization? Are our basic motives the same as those of our forefathers? Have the personality factors of the online generation mutated into something unfamiliar?

There are so many questions that need to be answered with regards to human nature in the information age. Are we smarter?

I performed a simple, pseudo-scientific experiment to check if people really read and assimilate information before commenting on social media forums. The objective was to infer whether access to lots of information through the internet has helped humans in optimising their capacity for symbolization.

Human communication is based upon a system of shared meanings known as language that is constructed of various symbols. These symbols occur at more than on conceptual level ­ letters of the alphabet are symbols used to construct words, e.g. and words serve as symbols to represent specific objects, thoughts, or ideas. The capacity to understand and use these symbols allows people to store and process, and transform observed experiences into cognitive models that guide them in future actions and decisions.

In our simple experiment, we found that humans are not necessarily coping with loads of information being pumped at them. Generally, there is information overload that is putting humans under pressure to interact with as huge volumes of information as possible at the expense of quality analysis and assimilation.

Social media users generally do not go beyond the headline or summary of a story that will have been shared by fellow humans. Users are creating cognitive models based on insufficient information regardless of its availability.

From social cognitive theory, it is well known that people gain an understanding of causal relationships and expand their knowledge by operating symbolically on the wealth of information derived from personal and vicarious experiences. They generate solutions to problems, evaluate their likely outcomes, and pick suitable options without having to go through a laborious behavioural search. Through the medium of symbols, people can communicate with others at any distance in time and space.

In keeping with the interactional perspective, it is necessary to devote attention to the social origins of thought and the mechanisms through which online factors exert their influence on cognitive functioning.

To participate in the social experiment or inspect some of the responses, visit



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