Why Half-Truths Spread and Why They Are Dangerous


The Basel literature professor Nicola Gess has created a guide titled “Half-truths: On The Manipulation of Reality,” which exposes fake news and tells readers how to deal with people who refuse to believe facts.

Gess uses the far-right German writer, Uwe Tellkamp, to explain a half-truth. In 2018, Tellkamp used editor Josef Joffe’s statement that the only way to get rid of Donald Trump was “murder in the White House” as proof that freedom of expression is threatened in Germany.

However, he lied about the context, Joffe was actually listing off examples of how an impeachment of Donald Trump could be triggered. Once half-truths like this are created they can spread across the internet and become even more distorted. The aim is often to get people angry at a common enemy.

These half-truths have been powerful enough to get people angry about emojis! Claims that militant vegans got Apple and Google to remove egg and chicken from the salad emoji started an uproar online.

People claimed the companies were being controlled by overly-woke liberals. In reality, Google removed the eggs to appeal to vegans, but no “militant vegans” were involved. Additionally, Apple’s salad emoji was always vegan.

Half-truths and fake news like the examples above seek to distort the difference between fact and fiction. Additionally, people are more likely to believe that these false statements are true if they align with pre-held beliefs. In other word, you believe what you want to believe.

Social networks play a huge role in disseminating half-truths because their format shortens statements and looks to generate emotion in the reader. Content can be shared uncritically and reposted by anyone who comes across it.

Half-truths threaten democracy because they open the door for people to stop trusting the government. Additionally, politicians like Donald Trump have used fake news to claim election fraud.

Fake news creates fear which pushes people towards authoritarianism. Conspiracy theories are not simply a form of social criticism. They are a way to manipulate other and create potentially-dangerous doubt in those who are in positions of power.   So how do you combat half-truths and fake new in general? Fact-check your news! Research new sites and people before you trust any information they post online to see if they often spread fake news.

Read more about half-truths here.

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