Why People Believe Things That Aren’t True

In Other Words: Why Marketing Is a Thing

Like it or not, we’re judgmental. We make snap judgements about people, places, and things all day long. We judge more than just nouns, too. We do it because we have to. We don’t have enough time to research every decision we make.

The truth is complicated, and in the words of internet culture, “ain’t nobody got time for that.”

So what do we do? We make snap judgements so we can get on with our lives — our increasingly busy lives. This has never been more true than in today’s attention economy, and it means one thing: we can be manipulated. Pretty. Damn. Easily.

So, an entire industry exists to service our need to be told what to do. It’s called marketing.

Now, this is where it gets interesting. Manipulation sounds like a bad word, right? But it depends on how you do it. If you get someone to take a negative action, it’s bad. If you get someone to take a positive action, well … you get the idea.

This is the plight of the marketer. People are busy, they need information, so they inadvertently ask marketers (read: journalists, businesses, politicians, churches, parents, and so on) what to do.

It is up to the marketer how to use this privilege. And it is a privilege.

Look at the Proliferation of Fake News

No, not The Onion. I’m talking about information — spread predominantly online — that looks like news, sounds like news, and is absolutely not news. It’s factually incorrect, and the people who make it usually know that.

Let’s use politics as an example, for it is oh so timely.

If you’re in a blue state, or ‘echo chamber’ as some have called it, you may have seen this:

This image was shared millions of times online. It was so widely consumed that Buzzfeed eventually published an article debunking it’s authenticity.

Now if you’re in a red ‘echo chamber’, you may have consumed similarly fake news with a not so similar slant. And considering one of your primary sources, it probably appeared quite legitimate. Take a look:

So, How Do We Prevent This From Happening

You cannot go on thinking ‘they’ need to stop manipulating people, that somehow everyone who needs to influence people to make a living will start acting in your best interest all the time. You need to take ownership of the problem and stop seeking out information that validates your preconceived notion of what the truth is. It is that exact behavior that opens up the door for manipulation in the first place.

A guiding principle for me (and it’s a constant struggle) is to understand the business model behind the person/institution that is providing me with information. If you understand how they stand to benefit, you’re closer to understanding whether or not they have your best interest at heart. A phenomenal book that explains this in the context of journalism is ‘Trust Me, I’m Lying’ by Ryan Holiday — an exceptional marketer and strategist.