The one sentence summary
Bullshit has hugely devalued truth, but there are ways to tackle it.
WHAT THE BOOK SAYS
- Sub-titled How Bullshit Conquered The World, this is a rundown on how the rise of a political, media and online infrastructure has devalued truth.
- Bullshit is so powerful that it can get you into the White House or remove a country from Europe. Both Trump and Brexit based their campaigns on misinformation.
- Everybody is spreading it: politicians, old media, new media, fake media, social media, and probably you, whether you realise it or not.
- We fall for it because it satisfies a basic need for stories, sensationalism, and a desire to confirm our own beliefs. And it is extremely profitable for those who peddle it.
- The author suggests a range of remedies for stopping it.
- Readers and voters: burst your bubble (read more widely), engage system two (your more considered response), learn some stats, treat narratives you believe as sceptically as ones you don’t, and try not to succumb to conspiratorial thinking.
- Media: watch your headlines, complexity is not a virtue, reconsider the ‘view from nowhere’ (more honesty about bias rather than supposedly purely objective reporting), explain how you work, cross the bubble, and help the audience do the same, rethink fact-checking, if you want to be trusted, be trustworthy, find ways to push corrections as far and wide as errors, think about where you get your content, stop funding fake news outlets, talk to science reporters (who have seen all this before), build a new public media, and look at why parts of your audience are leaving.
- Politicians: don’t explain, don’t complain, don’t just focus on fake news, bring targeted ads into the public eye, and don’t look like part of the establishment unless you have to.
WHAT’S GOOD ABOUT IT
- What we actually read and what we claim we want to read are radically different things. So in many ways we get the media we deserve. Outlets and hoaxers both produce material that finds an audience, regardless of accuracy.
- Backfire effects are arguably even stronger than confirmation bias. When presented with evidence that contradicts one of our most closely held beliefs, it may actually help to reinforce that belief rather than challenge it. So just as confirmation bias shields you when you actively seek information, the backfire effect defends you when information seeks you, then it blindsides you.
- Virtue signalling is when people say or write things to indicate that they are virtuous.
WHAT YOU HAVE TO WATCH
- Not much. This will mainly be of interest to those involved in news and PR.