Subscribe to Annie's Substack

Newsletter: Fake news lands on Mars

Newsletter Week of Feb 22nd

Fake news lands on Mars

New research about inoculating ourselves against misinformation.

By now, you’ve probably seen a video of NASA’s Perseverance rover on the Martian landscape. The video shows a panoramic view of the rocky planet accompanied by the sound of a windy Martian afternoon. Clear, high-definition video, with audio. Of another planet. From that planet. Over 200 million miles away. 

Not surprisingly, the video has gone viral on Twitter, amazing its viewers, and surpassing 20 million views. 

The problem is that it’s fake. 

Mark Kaufman quickly debunked this on In reality, the video is thought to be taken from NASA’s Curiosity rover (which landed on Mars back in 2012). The audio must be completely fabricated, since Curiosity doesn’t come equipped with audio microphones. 

Obviously, the retraction didn’t go viral. The truth, that the original Tweet was a fabrication, doesn’t travel as far or as fast.

That’s a problem because the more times we hear or see something, the more “truthy” it feels. The problem of misinformation is compounded by its mere repetition. And social media is a replication machine, designed to make things spread through repetition. 

Isn’t that exactly what going viral means? 

Going viral creates the repetition that makes things feel more true with little regard for what is actually true.

The good news is that there may be a new way of combating misinformation and fake news called prebunking. 

Behavioral scientists Jon Roozenbeek, Melisa Basol, and Sander van der Linden, from the Cambridge Decision Making Lab recently published a paper in Nature which, borrowing from inoculation theory, suggests that exposing people to a weakened version of fake-news-type misinformation builds their resistance against future manipulation attempts.

The researchers developed a free online game called Bad News where players score points for creating fake news that goes viral by mastering the techniques of fake news producers. The idea behind the games is that by learning what makes for attention-grabbing fake news, people will be better able to spot it and resist it. And that is exactly what they found.

In collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security, the researchers have since developed Harmony Squarea game where players produce viral election misinformation. They have also created Go Viral!a collaboration with the U.K. Cabinet Office with support from the U.N. and W.H.O., where players learn to produce fake pandemic news. 

The lab recently conducted a large experiment on the effectiveness of Go Viral!, summarized here, that is consistent with the results of their previous work. They found that Go Viral! players “find manipulative social media content significantly less reliable after playing our fake news game.” They also found that playing these games “boosts people’s confidence in their own judgements and reduces people’s self-reported willingness to share false content with their network.” Given the way we form new beliefs and how sticky they are once lodged, fighting misinformation once it has spread seems like a losing endeavor, especially when the fake news is couched in highly charged moral and emotional language. 

Prebunking might be a promising way to reduce the spread of fake news in the first place.

Adam Grant’s got some great ideas on updating bad beliefs.

Disentangling beliefs from identity: Think Again, and his interview in Behavioral Scientist.

We all walk around believing that lots of things that are true are false and that lots of things that are false are true. These inaccurate beliefs are often much more consequential than whether you’re seeing and hearing actual recordings from Mars. They can involve things like whether you should wear a mask, whether to get the COVID vaccine, whether gun control reduces crime, or whether a results-driven leadership style is the best way to motivate employees.

Your parenting decisions are informed by your  beliefs. Your work decisions are informed by your beliefs. Your relationship decisions are informed by your beliefs.

All your decisions are informed by your beliefs.

If you make a decision based on faulty beliefs, it doesn’t really matter how good your process is. Junk in, junk out, as they say.  It turns out that it’s really hard to dislodge a belief once it is formed.

Why are we so stubborn about updating our beliefs? And how can we get better at it?

Answering these questions happens to be the topic of Adam Grant’s amazing new book, Think Again. I recommend that you get the book, but in the meantime, you can read the interview he gave to Evan Nesterak in Behavioral Scientist. 

Grant does an excellent job (in the book and, as a preview, in the interview) explaining why we cling to bad beliefs. The problem we have is that we tend to incorporate our beliefs into our identity, especially the overall belief that we’re right about what we believe. We don’t want to be wrong and we don’t want to admit we’re wrong. 

The main thesis of the book is that we have to let go of the identity piece and start treating our beliefs as hypotheses. Think Again tackles how you can live a life where you’re more willing to dislodge beliefs and be more open-minded to new information that comes your way that might get you to rethink things. 

A particularly enjoyable aspect of the interview is his story about the powerful lesson Daniel Kahneman taught him about “being wrong” versus “having been wrong.” 

Grant gave a talk about some research and afterward, Kahneman approached him and said, “That was wonderful. I was wrong.” He was lit up with joy about being wrong – or rather, having been wrong.

He told Grant something to the effect of, “No one enjoys being wrong, but I do enjoy having been wrong, because it means I am now less wrong than I was before.”

It’s a great lesson, and a delightful insight into what makes Daniel Kahneman one of the great scientists of all time.  

It also fits beautifully into Adam Grant’s overall approach. 

Instead of anchoring your identity to particular beliefs or to being right about what you believe, you should, in the author’s words, “Anchor your sense of self in flexibility, rather than consistency.”

RECAP: Renew Democracy Virtual Rally

America is the land of opportunity. But it’s critical to ensure EQUALITY of opportunity through education. That’s the silver bullet. That’s how we reinvigorate our democracy. In case you missed the virtual rally, I hope you enjoy the playback and recording.

Watch here: 

In case you missed it: 
Art of Manliness Podcast
“How to Decide” Episode #685

Daily Stoic Podcast
“Poker World Champion Annie Duke On Choosing the Truth” with Ryan Holiday

Brainfluence Podcast and Video
Annie Duke Explains How to Decide with Roger Dooley

Jim Rutt Show

Annie Duke on Bets & Better Decisions 

Alliance for Decision Education Podcast
Episodes 1-4